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Entrepreneurs strut their stuff for investors at the Pageant

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 5, 2012 - David Schenberg thinks he hit a homerun. He may have slightly stumbled a bit when he briefly considered ad libbing but overall, he feels he nailed it.

“A little humanization doesn’t hurt, right?” he laughed afterward. “At least that’s what I keep telling myself.”

Indeed it doesn’t and Schenberg’s 10-minute presentation, like so many of the other hopefuls vying for the attention of 50 or so investors in the dimly lit auditorium, was a picture of well-honed professionalism. That was thanks in part to solid prep work by local business accelerator Capital Innovators. The organization was responsible for Wednesday afternoon’s Demo Day where a dozen promising tech startups like Schenberg’s were able to strut their stuff and look for cash infusions that could take them to the next level.

It was the inaugural year for the six-hour affair, with the fashionable Pageant concert venue on Delmar playing host and with an after-party at the nearby Moonrise Hotel.

The eclectic setting in the Loop seemed to fit the laid back ethos of the proceedings which were geared toward IT or e-commerce-related ideas. Some of the investors wore coats and ties but presenters were often dressed down opting for jeans, tennis shoes and color-coordinated tees emblazoned with the company logo. In the end, the slick, single-person, multimedia presentations, which extolled the profit opportunities of everything from an online restaurant reservation service to a social media tools management system to a location-based mobile app for college students, seemed to have a decidedly Steve Jobsian feel to them.

It didn’t go unnoticed.

“I just heard from a woman I was talking to that she overheard an investor from Silicon Valley saying that the pitches at this event were the best quality he’s seen in a very long time,” said Judy Sindecuse, CEO of Capital Innovators. “I just can’t believe we got a compliment like that from someone who is so experienced. He sees these things every week.”

Sindecuse said the startup environment in the Gateway City still has issues with capital sourcing for electronic ventures, noting that the area’s growing biotech/life sciences presence is sweeping up a lot of the city’s investment dollars. She thinks that’s a good thing but said she felt the city could support a burgeoning IT hub as well. That’s where an event like Demo Day can help.

Schenberg would agree. His company, BusyEvent, opened six years ago. Designed to help manage information flow at events such as trade shows using special wireless devices, his system is now being relaunched on smart phones or tablets under the moniker gomobile.pro.

“The first time through there were only a couple of choices of groups you could go through to get help,” he said of his 2006 experience. “During this restart we’ve noticed so much more activity around the area.”

'Killer stuff'

Gabriel Lozano, the day’s opening presenter, introduced the attendees toLockerDome, a sports-themed social media platform.

Like Schenberg, he thought the event showcased the area’s talent.

“You’ve got a dozen companies that are all doing killer stuff and the community can see that,” said the native St. Louisan. “No. 1, it’s a sports town which really helps us, but second, there is starting to be a lot of good technology stuff, such as with Capital Innovators, that’s bubbling up. We’re getting to a place where I think we can do this deal in St. Louis on a very big level.”

Investors certainly turned out. Brian Matthews was on hand as part of Cultivation Capital, a new early-stage venture fund in town. He said he’d seen some good potential on stage, noting that his group hoped to find two to four enterprises to invest in over the next several months.

“It gets better every day,” he said of the area’s business milieu. “I think there are more support systems than we’ve ever had in St. Louis. There’s more capital. There are more mentorship programs than we’ve ever seen to date.”

Capital Innovators is responsible for some of that mentoring. Wednesday’s featured companies are part of its Accelerator Program which provides 12 weeks of educational training as well as $50,000 in seed money to promising enterprises. There are also other perks ranging from help with accounting and legal services to office space at the T-REx in the Railway Exchange Building. In return, Capital Innovators gets a share of equity in the fledgling venture.

Promotional materials say that the value of the institution’s portfolio has grown by 225 percent in seven months with companies raising an additional $3.2 million in follow-on funding and creating more than 100 jobs in the state.

Not all of the attendees were investors.

Audience member Marc Kabak said he isn’t new to startups having done three in the past several years. His most recent is a cloud-based software solution for the home improvement industry to link suppliers, contractors and manufacturers.

“This company is actually on an enterprise level that my other two weren’t,” he said. “My other companies were local and didn’t require the startup that this one does.”

He said he thinks getting ready cash in St. Louis is still difficult but he believes the times are changing.

“People are more receptive to start ups,” he said, “and you have an easier time getting people to look at you on money than you did before.”

As for his attendance it was more than idle curiosity that brought him to the Pageant.

“Someday I may be doing what they are doing today, presenting onstage,” he said, “so I’m trying to get an idea of what this looks like and the process.”

Sindecuse said applications are already being accepted for Capital Innovators next class of companies.