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It all began when she received e-mail encouraging her to apply for Springboard. "I [did], and, in April, they notified me I had made the first cut," recalls C.J. Scarlet, founder and president of Insentric Systems in Raleigh, North Carolina. The company acts as an intermediary to link insurance companies that need to purchase products and services for their customers with local companies that supply them.
Springboard is a series of nationwide forums that showcase venture-capital-ready companies led by women. The first forum was held in March 2000 in Silicon Valley. At last count, 22 of the 26 companies that presented there had secured investments, raising a total of $210 million.
For Scarlet, the first stop was Washington, DC, to give a presentation before a panel of professionals and investors who evaluated her business plan, concept and presentation skills. In May, Scarlet, 39, was notified that she'd been selected to present to venture capitalists during the Springboard 2000 Mid-Atlantic forum.
Scarlet flew to Washington, DC, with her CEO, Drew Turner, for a boot camp on June 8. They met event sponsors, learned what was expected of presenters, listened to a panel of venture capitalists and female entrepreneurs, and attended a session where they drafted a rough outline of her presentation.
Scarlet and her team then worked with volunteer coaches in Raleigh, who critiqued and helped polish her presentation, before heading back to DC for the input of panel members. This posed a dilemma: "[The DC panel] told me to put it back the way it was," says Scarlet, who tempered her frustration with humor. "If you take yourself too seriously, you get stressed out, but humor relaxes everyone."
Scarlet also called Robbie Hardy, a woman entrepreneur and angel investor on the Raleigh panel, who said, "Go with what you believe is the strongest presentation." Scarlet applied some of the DC panel's suggestions to her presentation and prepared justifications for the exclusion of others. The DC panel advised only minor revisions.
On July 11, the forum's opening morning, the presenters did a run-through. Afterward, Scarlet went to her hotel to rest, and something strange happened.
"I bent down to pick up my shoes, and there was a purple coin that looked like a Mardi Gras coin in one. The crown side was up; the other side was the fool. I put it in my pocket and kept it there all day," says Scarlet, who insists the doubloon wasn't there before her nap. Regarding her presentation, Scarlet says, "I've never been so nervous. When I started, I didn't really see any of the people. The moment the first word came out of my mouth, all that preparation just bubbled up. From that second on, I was in control. I could see my CEO and vice president of communications smiling and nodding. I saw other people nodding as well.
"Springboard wasn't just about helping me create a strong presentation-it was about honing my skills as the leader of a company," says Scarlet. "It was validating to know that other women who'd been there and done that saw my company's potential." She's received about $100,000 from angel investors so far.
Springboard echoed Scarlet's own philosophy-give a hand up, not a handout.
Check out www.springboard2000.org for information about future Springboard forums.
- Insentric Systems, (919) 424-3760, www.insentric.com