PBJ 6/1/2012

June 1, 2012

Ari­zona tech com­pa­nies off to Sil­i­con Val­ley for VC Pitches

By Patrick O’Grady, Phoenix Busi­ness Journal

Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank is tak­ing 11 com­pa­nies on a road show to vis­it Cal­i­for­nia investors and hope­ful­ly drum up some inter­est in the local market.

Nine of the 11 com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the South­west Show­case are based in Ari­zona, a big boon for some of the state’s tech star­tups. Two com­pa­nies from Col­orado also will be part of the showcase.

The goal of the one-time event, to be held June 5 in Palo Alto, is to estab­lish more con­nec­tions among Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank, Ari­zona tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies and the bank’s clients, which include numer­ous ven­ture cap­i­tal firms, said Dax Williamson, the bank’s deal team leader in Tempe.

“We’re doing this as spe­cif­ic to the South­west because of our growth here,” he said.

Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank announced in Jan­u­ary that it was open­ing a tech­nol­o­gy cen­ter in Tempe, which even­tu­al­ly would cre­ate up to 220 jobs. It has had a small team in the Val­ley for more than a decade, respon­si­ble for con­nect­ing the Phoenix area with the Cal­i­for­nia tech­nol­o­gy hub.

Next week’s road show is sim­i­lar to what the bank does twice a year: It selects between two dozen and three dozen com­pa­nies from across the coun­try to show­case to a group of ven­ture cap­i­tal firms, Williamson said.

Two Phoenix-area com­pa­nies have tak­en part in the nation­al road show in past years: Gilbert-based Infu­sion­soft, which makes mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions soft­ware for small busi­ness­es; and Fly­pa­per Stu­dio of Phoenix, which devel­ops soft­ware for edu­ca­tion­al uses and dig­i­tal displays.

Williamson said giv­en the poor his­to­ry of ven­ture cap­i­tal flow­ing into Phoenix and Ari­zona, Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank offi­cials hope to help com­pa­nies make more con­nec­tions and let its clients know about tech busi­ness­es that have potential.

“We’re hop­ing that some of these investors will make a ‘love con­nec­tion,’ if you will, in terms of find­ing a good match,” he said.

Lack of venture capital

There’s been a dearth of ven­ture cap­i­tal in Ari­zona and the South­west in gen­er­al. In the first quar­ter, Ari­zona, New Mex­i­co, Utah and Neva­da account­ed for $91 mil­lion in ven­ture invest­ment out of the nation­al total of about $5.7 bil­lion, accord­ing to Price­wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers and the Nation­al Ven­ture Cap­i­tal Association’s Mon­eyTree Report.

Ari­zona scored three of the Southwest’s top four deals in the first quar­ter, with $16 mil­lion going to Gilbert-based Unique Home Designs Inc., $13 mil­lion to Scotts­dale-based 41st Para­me­ter Inc. and $10 mil­lion to Scotts­dale-based Cayenne Med­ical Inc.

Most of the com­pa­nies going on the bank trip are hop­ing to land between $500,000 and $5 mil­lion each.

Aaron Bare, co-founder and CEO of Event­Mob, a Val­ley-based com­pa­ny that helps busi­ness­es pro­mote spon­ta­neous events, said it is work­ing on a beta of its soft­ware and is look­ing for $1 mil­lion in funding.

In addi­tion to investor con­nec­tions, the road show offers an edu­ca­tion about what Sil­i­con Val­ley ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists are look­ing for, said Bare, who also is entre­pre­neur in res­i­dence at the Thun­der­bird School of Glob­al Man­age­ment in Glendale.

“From rais­ing sig­nif­i­cant mon­ey for past star­tups, we know that par­tic­i­pat­ing in these events (is) essen­tial in build­ing a suc­cess­ful start­up brand from both a finan­cial and human cap­i­tal per­spec­tive,” he said.

Scrappy entrepreneurs

There also is the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Sil­i­con Val­ley investors are more will­ing to invest in com­pa­nies and keep them where they start­ed rather than requir­ing them to move to California.

“Sil­i­con Val­ley is start­ing to take a more seri­ous look at star­tups out­side (Cal­i­for­nia) as they look to deploy their monies in the most effec­tive way. We want to be one of those com­pa­nies and glad­ly cheer on all the oth­er star­tups par­tic­i­pat­ing from Ari­zona,” Bare said.

Bulb­storm, a Phoenix social mar­ket­ing com­pa­ny par­tic­i­pat­ing in the show­case, is try­ing to fin­ish a $7 mil­lion financ­ing round. It already has $2.6 mil­lion com­mit­ted, said CEO Bart Stein­er.

“It was a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to get an audi­ence with some of the Sil­i­con Val­ley VCs,” he said.

Bulb­storm raised $3 mil­lion in a pre­vi­ous round, and Stein­er said find­ing more mon­ey in Ari­zona can be chal­leng­ing at best, despite an entre­pre­neur­ial tech mar­ket that has been developing.

“I think what you’ve got is a lot of scrap­py entre­pre­neurs with good ideas that are try­ing to sup­port them,” he said. “There’s not a rea­son we can’t be suc­cess­ful here.”

The show­case will fea­ture 26 rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 15 Sil­i­con Val­ley ven­ture firms. More than 40 com­pa­nies applied to par­tic­i­pate, and 11 were selected.

“For us, con­nec­tions are every­thing,” Williamson said. “That’s the val­ue-add that com­pa­nies get by work­ing with us.”

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