BY ROGER WILLIAMS 10-22-2014 WWW.fortmyers.floridaweekly.com
On Sat., October 25, 50 inventor-entrepreneurs, the semi-finalists in a monthslong process that included pitches from as far away as Dubai, New Zealand and Malaysia, will arrive on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers from 17 states and all over Florida. There, they will present their business plans to judges with deep pockets.
By evening, one will win $5,000 and others may find investors to power up their ideas. All of it’s public. Speakers who have succeeded as entrepreneurs will offer presentations to attendees throughout the day. Tickets range from $5 to $25 and can be purchased at www.americandreamseekers.com, where ideas and competitors can also be viewed in brief summaries.
The event includes high-profile business and political leaders serving as judges in a first-of-its-kind regional public festival of the entrepreneurial spirit, modeled in part on ABC’s reality TV show, Shark Tank. There, entrepreneurs pitch their ideas under the blinding light of public scrutiny to judges who decide whether to fund them, or not.
“I took on the role of executive producer, so I do what the Shark Tank people do — I review every step of the process,” says Mr. Riley, owner of R.J. Riley & Company event planners.
Among the many ideas the entrepreneurs will pitch are technical applications for business or science, food or food use notions or products, lifestyle-safety products, fashion and apparel ideas, and others.
* High-fashion men’s neckties capable of heating both neck and chest in cold weather with a small battery that can also be used to charge a cell-phone.
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* A “mobile application/text notification system (that) will alert consumers of discounts on near-expiring produce and other perishable good in their local grocery stores in order to liquidate fresh food,” which could be cheaper for the consumer, more effective and economical for the grocer, and a way of reducing greenhouse emissions in landfills, according to the entrepreneur.
* An idea to distribute worldwide “the world’s first functional artificial finger for amputees (which has) changed the way finger amputees are treated in the U.S. today.”
Mr. Riley and his team, which included one former Shark Tank competitor who had been through the process and knew what Shark Tank did to help bring the entrepreneurs up to par, look for three qualities in the bold, brilliant and ambitious, he says.
“Knowledge, first. Know not only your product and business, but know the competition and the market.
“Second, the ability to be extremely persuasive.
“And finally entertainment, humor and just passion — that’s an intangible in some ways.”
Presenting entrepreneurs also include those who aim to distribute cheese cake or barbecue sauces and rubs; those who will suggest design or use changes in buildings to turn power expenditures into profits, they say; an entrepreneur who is developing a system that will allow field scientists to collect and store data and metadata without any reliance on hand-written records or photos, thus reducing errors associated with those and providing both the parameters and various fields of data for given disciplines. In marine biology, for example, the system “would bring up fields for dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, temperature and ORP.”
No matter how good their ideas, most entrepreneurs start the process of pitch with some rough edges, when it comes to their own brain children.
“There is a definite different eco-culture and ecosystem of entrepreneurs,” says Mr. Riley. “They think a little differently, a little off-center in focus because they are completely laser-beamed about their business — and they need help. Some don’t know how to raise money, some don’t know how to pitch well enough. That’s where we brought value.”
Judges and speakers together form a compliment of turbo-charged entrepreneurial engines capable of bringing significant value to any who attend — they’re people who have made millions by relying on ingenuity, inventiveness and hard-nosed business acumen. Which is just what they’re looking for in the competitors.
But the competition might also bring forward those qualities in investors, creating a perfect storm of opportunity for all, not just the entrepreneurs, says Craig Pisaris-Henderson, a 44-year-old Fort Myers-based superstar in the entrepreneurial world. He will service as one of the judges in the semi-final round of American Dream Seekers.
Mr. Pisaris-Henderson, who now heads Lexos Media, has built a number of companies, including FindWhat.com that ultimately went public and had just under $1 billion capital on the NASDAQ — and he’s raised $250 million for various ventures over time, he says.
He knows what it takes to be an entrepreneur, and it’s not just a good idea. It’s also a good investor.
“I’ve built companies large and small, and one that became publicly traded, and even though I tried to access local investors early on, they weren’t available. A lot of resources here hadn’t been organized yet — no one had put them in an organized system.”
American Dream Seekers, he adds, may help change what amounts to investor malaise in a region of great investor muscle.
“We have a wealthy area for finance and brain power, and most folks here who have been large business people, they come here from elsewhere to relax and not build their businesses.”
So they miss opportunities.
On the day of competition, the 50 entrepreneurs who qualified as semifinalists will be culled to five finalists by late afternoon. Those five will present to the final-round judges in the evening, vying the $5,000 prize.
Among the final-round judges are Michael Dent, a co-founder of InLight Capital Partners; Mark Farron of Kadima Consulting; Derek Vest, the founder of GenTech Pharmaceutical; David Diamond, a co-founder and owner of Diamond DeAngelis Construction, which includes a group of businesses; Steve Walling, who heads SJW Strategic solutions; and Timothy Cartwright, who manages Fifth Avenue Advisors in Naples, along with the Tamiami Angel Group of investors in two separate funds that have been powering up entrepreneurs with solid capitol for several years.
Geographically, the investors range from Marco Island to Sarasota. Economically, they’ve anted up millions so far, “to collectively make private equity investments in promising early stage through expansion stage commercial ventures,” in the boilerplate words of the Tamiami Angel Group.
So far, the second of those angel funds, created last March with 39 investors and known as T2, has invested $850,000 of a $2.85 million fund to date (the goal for T2 is $5 million) in five entrepreneurial ideas that were once in the competition stage themselves. Now, they have moved far beyond that into real-world success.
In addition, members of the T2 have thrown in an additional $700,000-plus to support ideas they like, on their own, notes Mr. Cartwright.
This kind of support is where the competitors jumping into American Dream Seekers want to be. On the other hand, the entrepreneurs T2 is supporting also may hint at which way the world of entrepreneurship is going.
Those ventures include Naples-based MassiveU, which designs on-line education and training programs; Miamibased Senzari, which offers an on-line engine to recommend music in playlists or song lists based on all public information provided about an individual — but this idea has a social component, too. Friends can help create the playlists, even based on who the individual is with at the time and what they all might like to hear together.
There is also Detroit-based Level 11, which follows and collects all the data that sales personnel are supposed to provide about their calls, contacts, number of meetings with decision makers, what they say and how they present their ideas — and then allows management to set up competitions among them, and enforce right behavior.
Or the Miami-based company 71 Pounds, a company that tracks your Fed-Ex or UPS shipments and holds those companies to their guarantees: if a shipment comes in even one minute late, 71 Pounds recovers the cost of shipping as promised, takes 30 percent, and returns 70 percent to your business or account. And not only that, adds Mr. Cartwright, but if you live in a highrise above ground floor commercial operations, for example, the company will ensure you get the benefits and guarantees of personal, not commercial, deliveries — including delivery to your door and not a business downstairs, if warranted.
Finally, there’s an entrepreneurial start-up called Moveable, a Clevelandbased company that offers “an internet enabled small wearable device that tracks your physical movement,” says Mr. Cartwright.
Aimed at Fortune 500 companies or digital education programs in which students can take physical education courses on-line, the device allows monitors to judge the level of activity of individuals.
In the case of the companies, managers can require employees to stay healthy enough, based on the level of activity, to help lower health care costs across the board for everybody.
In any of these ventures, says Mr. Cartwright, success will not ultimately be achieved unless both entrepreneurs and investors can together create an alchemy he calls “deal flow.”
As a judge of the finalists in American Dream Seekers, that’s what he hopes to see on the crucial day — nearly instant deal flow.
“The number of deals you see is the lifeblood that keeps your organization alive,” he explains. “So when I get a chance to look at (these entrepreneurs in one place) I’m going to be there, and so should any other serious investors. There are lessons here for the entrepreneur, but also lessons and benefits for the investor.”
Among those benefits might be onestop shopping, in effect.
“Think about what an individual angel investor has to do to go about attracting deal flow,” says Mr. Cartwright. “He has to go meet with an attorney, with an accountant, with the economic development director. He might have to try to arrange a meeting with the university. So actually finding good deal flow is a challenge for an individual investor.
“But here with American Dream Seekers you have prepackaged deal flow already vetted by the community and business leaders that could take months to develop, otherwise.”
And that could prove good not only for those who attend the competitive culmination of American Dream Seekers, but somebody for the community at large, as companies and jobs pour in, seeking a climate in which entrepreneurs are born. ¦