Fair Game

Ahead Of The Game

Evidence of the value these fairs offer entrepreneurs in getting their companies funded is offered by Tofano, who trekked several hundred miles from Charlotte to Wilmington to be present for the two-day event. "I've heard that if someone in the investment community hears your company's name three times, that's when they start to take notice and get interested," he says. Accordingly, Tofano says he wasn't necessarily looking to close a deal at the conference but to gain exposure for the company in a forum that was recognized by and would have some sway with investors.

Freschman says gaining entree into Early Stage East or a similar conference can, indeed, offer the prestige that's required to make investors sit up and take notice. "Each company that presents has made it through a careful screening process of professional venture investors. For every company that gets to present, 10 to 15 others are turned away."

Tofano confirms the punch Early Stage East gave his TeleSys Technologies. "Some of the most promising calls I've gotten were from investors who weren't even there but who had the opportunity to review conference materials," he says. He believes the sanction of a recognized organization makes investors pay more attention than they would, say, to an unsolicited business plan received in the mail.

Between travel, display rentals, fees and materials, Tofano says he spent about $3,000 attending Early Stage East. So what did he get?

"From the conference itself, I got seven leads I feel very good about," Tofano says. In addition, he got calls from three investors not in attendance who read the conference materials, liked with they saw and contacted him directly. "In some cases, these leads are superior to the leads the conference generated," he says. And Tofano may dig up even more nuggets of gold if he follows up on the conference attendee list with a letter and a phone call.

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This article was originally published in the October 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Fair Game.

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