Small Business

Springboard Helps Startups Land Capital


At the nonprofit's latest venture capital forum for media outfits headed by women, the outlook is decidedly upbeat

Given the state of the financial markets, how hard is it for media startups to get equity financing right now? It's the morning of Oct. 30 in Midtown Manhattan, and the 22 women entrepreneurs invited to pitch at AllThingsMedia, a venture capital forum that showcases women-led companies in the media and entertainment industries, are about to find out.

Since the forum's kickoff bootcamp day (BusinessWeek.com, 7/21/08) back in July, participants have been meeting regularly with volunteer coaches to shore up weak spots in their pitches and get advice. Today, the entrepreneurs will each have 10 minutes to make a formal presentation to an audience of 280 people, including prominent angel investors, venture capitalists, and corporate investors. Once an entrepreneur makes her pitch, she'll spend the rest of the day networking and meeting informally with potential backers.

Co-hosted by the Paley Center for Media and nonprofit Springboard Enterprises, the goal of the forum is to give women who lead emerging growth companies a better shot at securing equity capital. Kay Koplovitz, USA Network founder and Springboard co-founder, says she wanted the forum to focus on media as a way to help the industry fare better than the struggling music industry.

Tough-Love Coaching

Now in its ninth year, Springboard has hosted or co-hosted 17 forums in eight markets, helping 360 women-led companies land more than $4 billion. Applicants must head investment-ready companies and be willing to engage in Springboard's tough-love coaching process. "It's the only program of its kind that operates on a national level," says Babson College professor Patricia Greene. "Beyond helping individual women, I think Springboard has made such a difference as far as reminding people in the investing community we're missing an awful lot of talent."

Kelly Fitzsimmons, the co-founder and CEO of harQen, a Web telephony company in Milwaukee, is among the entrepreneurs invited to pitch. "When I came in, [my company] was a very confusing sell," says Fitzsimmons. "I wasn't sure how to put together my pitch and present it to people…I really struggled to put together a value proposition. [The coaching process] really allowed me to own my story and find my voice."

One of Fitzsimmons' coaches, Ellen Corenswet, a partner at Covington & Burling who specializes in venture capital and emerging growth companies, agrees the process helped Fitzsimmons, explaining how she worked with Fitzsimmons both to simplify her slides and to make them more dynamic while also getting her to talk more about herself in her presentation.

After prominent Springboard alumnae participate in a panel discussion on maintaining momentum in a downturn, the entrepreneurs get started making their pitches. Most of them touch briefly on the economy, mentioning their survival skills earned in previous downturns or specific plans to overcome this one.

Koplovitz and Springboard co-founder and president Amy Millman say participants haven't been dissuaded by the markets or the economy. "When you're going through market conditions like this—you need good news and energy—people are still looking around and saying: What am I going to invest in next?" says Millman. Legendary venture capitalist and longtime Springboard supporter Alan Patricof agrees. "I don't see venture capital drying up for new companies [seeking a few million dollars]. Yes, it might be slightly harder, but for early-stage companies like those here today at Springboard, there will still be money."

For a selection of the entrepreneurs' pitches in their own words, flip through this slide show.

Leiber is Small Business editor for BusinessWeek.com .

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