The UVA VC Summit – Notes & Quotes

I’m still trying to get my thoughts in order for India post #3 on entrepreneurship, so I’ll wait on that and instead talk about the venture capital summit UVA hosted Thurs and Friday. It was a pretty cool event- I wasn’t able to go to the whole session Thurs because of classes, but I got to the last panel , and attended the company presentations Friday.

Thursday Panel: “Windows on the Future”: The Thurs Panel focused on future opportunities in emerging technology areas, and had some very cool panelists.

  • J. Stephen Dolezalek, Managing Director, Vantage Point Venture Partners; Jack Biddle, General Partner, Novak Biddle Venture Partners; Frank Levinson, Founder and MD, Small World Group; J. Sanford “Sandy” Miller, GP, Institutional Venture Partners; Rob Paull, Co-founder and MP, Lux Capital.

I’ve spoken with Rob Paull before, as I have a friend who works for Lux, and I’m familiar with Novak Biddle through another program Darden put on, but the others were new to me. I was impressed by all the panelists, although I didn’t agree with every comment made (especially the back and forth with an angel investor in the audience, whom the VC guys felt it necessary to deride as “friend and family investments that prevent real investments from being made later in the process). All in all though, good panel. Just a few of the more interest quotes from my notes:

  1. “If we (VCs) can figure out a way to help companies to a faster exit, that may encourage more scientists, engineers, etc at universities to partner more closely with us.”
  2. Anytime you can create a product that leverages existing structures of distribution, you are both reducing your start-up cost as well as effectively growing your revenue ability.
  3. Entrepreneurship is stronger in the U.S. than other countries because in the U.S., big companies will do business with a start-up if that will give them a competitive edge. That doesn’t happen in other countries where big companies seem less willing to take a risk on a new provider/technology/product.
  4. While (almost across the board) VC guys seem very very opposed to government-backing of new venture (saying that never in history has that been a productive long-term model), they were enamored of the current Singapore means of attracting investment by reducing nearly all investor risk. In Singapore, the government will fund 85% of a VC venture, but provide a call option for the first 3 years. So after 2 years and 11 months, a VC can look across a portfolio of companies they’ve backed, choose 2-3 that are performing well and call that option so they own it, then let the rest of the portfolio sink, with the government picking up 85% of the tab. What a surprise they’d like that to be the government stance here in the U.S….

At the end of the panel, the participants gave feedback on their key areas of focus for the next few years (based on what they think will perform well): Personalized Medicine; Clean-Tech; Mobility Technology (Smartphones especially); Healthcare IT.

Friday Presentations: Start-Up Companies & Student Entrepreneurs: Friday morning consisted of some very cool presentations- 4 by start-up companies that are connected to UVA in some way (graduates, professors or clinical research, etc) and then 5 student presentations from across the schools (Some Darden, some med-school, some undergrad, etc.). Below are a few of the companies I enjoyed hearing about:

  • Privaris: This was an extremely professional and focused presentation- the most impressive of the morning. Privaris uses key-fob sized personal mobile devices to authenticate an individual’s identity before they can use security systems. To make that clearer, you have a fob on your key chain that uses fingerprints (for example, although there are other ones too, like optical scans). You scan your finger, it confirms your identity, then it transmits a one-time, just-created complex password to the security system you’re accessing. So imagine this as a garage door opener- it scans your finger, then transmits a signal and allows the door to open. A lot of this type of technology is out there, but the company has done a very cool thing in patenting the “method” of security behind the IP, not the actual machines.
  • Dobro Media Precision Ads: This was the most innovative of the ideas presented- very unique. Started by John Dowd, a Darden student, Dobro Media Precision Ads will be one of the Batten Institute “Incubator” funded projects that John and Brianne Warner (a FY Darden student) work on. Precision Ads allows newspapers to leverage targeted ads in a method similar to online sites. They’re currently running a pilot program with the Virginian-Pilot, where they provide a customized micro-zoned print solution, allowing advertisers to geographically and demographically target segments of the newspaper’s subscribers. If you’re a business (and this is very good for small, local businesses) you design an ad, which is then placed on the “cover wrap” that goes inside the bag but over the newspaper that’s being delivered to customers. Based on the geographic and demographic segments you choose, Precision Ads identifies the right newspaper routes for your ad; the “cover wrap” with your ad is only placed on the newspapers going to that route. The cost is a small amount per house; the ads are large and colorful and are zero cost to you to create on their website. It’s a cool way of specifically targeting consumers; I think their hope is to eventually have the ability to target specific houses. Right now the demographic details are based on gathered information from different databases, but subscribers to the newspaper can also go online and signal areas of interest they’d like to receive ads for. It’s a very interesting way of making print ads as intelligent as online ads have become.

That’s all for now! To give you a heads up, my upcoming posts will include: Entrepreneurship in India; Why is Service During This Recession So Bad?; and a few Guest Bloggers….

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