Out-of-staters Take VANJ Elevator Pitch Olympics


A Pennsylvania clean-energy company, New Tech Wind, tied with Thermal Gradient, a Rochester, N.Y., biotech firm that is developing a rapid, low-cost DNA test, to win the Venture Association of New Jersey’s (VANJ) Spring Entrepreneur’s Expo and Elevator Pitch Olympics on May 21, 2012.

Unfortunately, no N.J. companies made it to the winner’s circle.

VANJ hosts this event twice a year, providing promising emerging companies the chance to pitch to VC and angel judges. Participants staff booths and meet investors before their pitches. They then endure a vote on both their pitch quality and fundability, with investors holding up a score, Olympics-style. Judges are brutally honest, but participants have a chance to meet with them afterward to discuss where they went wrong.

The event’s judges included: Steve Brotman, managing partner, Silicon Alley Venture Partners (New York); Brian Cohen, chairman, New York Angels; Carol Curley, managing director, Golden Seeds Angel Network (New York); Frank Graziano, managing partner, Monmouth Venture Partners; Mario Casabona, chairman, Jumpstart NJ Angel Network (Mount Laurel); Scott Sipprelle, managing member and founder, Innovation Garden (Princeton); and Jeanne Sullivan, founding principal, StarVest Partners (New York).

New Tech Wind’s pitch highlighted the economic viability of the company’s direct-drive wind turbine generator that has no gearbox, the wind turbine part that often fails. John West, president, said the technology could be used to retrofit older wind turbine generators. Several judges thought the idea was extremely fundable.

In his pitch, Thermal Gradient serial entrepreneur and founder Bob Juncosa said his low-cost, disposable device that tests DNA in eight minutes would be desired by large diagnostic companies. However, the companies want him to integrate the test into their instruments. The company seeks funding to build a demonstration instrument. Several judges were impressed with both the presentation and the fundability of this idea. 

The second-place winner was Plehn Analytics, a Newtown, Pa., company that analyzes unique data for financial benchmarking, market sizing and legal and financial risk management. The firm said it has access to data filings from 27 million businesses and 140 million tax filers in the U.S.

Tied for third place were SeedInvest (New York), a startup crowdfunding venture aiming to be ready once regulations for crowdfunding are in place, pitched by Ryan Feit, CEO and cofounder, and  Speak-in-find an electronic device that lets users find items, like keys or glasses, they misplace in their homes, pitched by inventor Cindy Wittman of Peconic Concepts (New York).

Other news relevant to the N.J. investor and entrepreneurial communities that emerged from the conference held that day:

David Sorin, known as the lawyer to entrepreneurs and young companies, announced SorinRoyerCooper is no more and his new law firm will be called SorinRand (East Brunswick). He said his company would continue to focus on privately owned and publicly traded emerging-growth, technology, energy and life sciences companies. A subsequent announcement stated the firm’s former Conshohocken, Pa., office would become Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld and aim at the same emerging-growth and middle-market companies.

Jay Trien, founder and president of the VANJ and senior partner at Trien Rosenberg (Chatham), said his company had merged with Raich Ende Malter & Co. but would still focus on CPA and advisory services aimed at entrepreneurial companies. As a division of Raich, Trien Rosenberg will continue to sponsor events such as the Elevator Pitch Olympics, he said.

Sipprelle, whose Innovation Garden is part investment platform and accelerator that contracts with professionals such as lawyers and CPAs to help participants, said his company had closed funding June 1, 2012, with Wasabi 3D (Princeton), a company using 3-D technology in advertising.

Casabona, founder of the accelerator TechLaunch (Montclair), a joint venture with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), noted that the application deadline for the accelerator’s first class of tech companies — June 8 — is rapidly approaching. He said response from N.J. companies had been good, and TechLaunch was encouraging N.Y.’s Silicon Alley companies to cross the Hudson and join the accelerator.

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