Any entrepreneur who's ever chased venture capital dollars can tell you the process is often a brutal, soul-stripping experience. For those without Ivy League connections or friends and family in the right places, finding someone to quickly scan your executive summary or listen to your "elevator" pitch can take months.
This need--of entrepreneurs who have potentially fundable ideas to be connected to investors--has given rise to the quite recent venture-forum phenomenon. Although these entities have been in existence for decades, the past five years have seen the number of forums grow significantly.
According to Tom Siegel, president of the National Association of Venture Forums, there are about 100 active forums nationwide. They range from relatively small, highly selective groups to forums that let just about anyone with a business plan make a pitch.
Most forums charge an application fee and offer brief one-day workshops geared toward helping selected candidates refine their presentations. Presentations range between seven and 15 minutes and are typically followed by a question-and-answer period, when angels and venture capitalists ask for more details about the company, its management team, the market and more.
But don't expect investors to be so dazzled by your presentation that they rush up, checkbook in hand and pen poised. "Most investors require additional meetings," explains Siegel, who adds that venture forums should still be considered long shots, and that they require lots of follow-up and perseverance. Despite that, says Siegel, they're still a great tool for helping entrepreneurs get exposure, refine their business models and sharpen their pitches.