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170 Companies. 64 Venture Firms. Now Go.

The National Venture Capital Association hosts World's Largest Office Hours, its first-ever matchmaking event

It’s not easy for entrepreneurs to get the introductions they need to venture backers. So on May 14th in San Francisco, the National Venture Capital Association lent a helping hand, in the form of a speed dating event for entrepreneurs.

“We were thinking, ‘How can we reboot the NVCA conference?’” says Venky Ganesan, a managing director at Menlo Ventures. “It was becoming a little insular and a little low-energy.”

NVCA invited entrepreneurs representing 170 companies, from 20 states and five countries, to pitch 100 venture capitalists from 64 firms. (Full disclosure: I participated in the event as an entrepreneur.) American Airlines provided free plane tickets to 85 out-of-town entrepreneurs. “With such a large list of venture capitalists attending, it was a great opportunity,” says Maider Apraiz, chief sales officer of Gamelearn, which makes video games for mastering life-long skills.

Ganesan expects that out of the 170 companies attending, 10 to 15 will be funded as a direct outcome of the matchmaking event. “That would be amazing impact,” he says.

As you might expect, “It was a bit of a madhouse,” said Christine Sommers, co-founder of ePact, which she described as a “LinkedIn for emergencies.” Some venture firms, such as Scale Ventures, sent a team of partners to take turns speaking with entrepreneurs.

While the speed-dating format isn’t for everyone, Jacqueline Thong, co-founder of mobile health app Ubiqi Health, says it eliminated some of the awkwardness of traditional networking events. “Entrepreneurs could focus on having a good conversation with investors rather than on figuring out how to initiate the conversation,” she said.

Sommers was similarly positive. “I got to meet with funds whose domains are very much aligned with what we’re doing and have some good follow-ups booked. I also got some great advice and insights, all within 20 minutes.”

It’s probably impossible to satisfy nearly 200 entrepreneurs, all of whom are vying to meet their favorite venture capitalist. But attendees said it would be great if, instead of being matched to a particular firm by the NVCA, they were able to indicate which firms or individuals they’d most like to meet with. “Jockeying to try to get time in a room of more than 100 start-ups can be painful,” says Sommers. “I hate feeling like we have to swoop in on VCs, even though I know they are used to it.”

Ganesan’s on it, saying that next year he’d like to have a mobile app for remote matchmaking to make the networking part of the event easier.

He also had a few tips for entrepreneurs who want to partiipate in next year’s event. One part of the application asks for a 100-word description of your company, and in some cases, said Ganesan, he wasn’t able to figure out exactly what the company did. “You need a clear thoughtful idea,” he says. “Keep it simple.” Also: Apply early.

Last updated: May 15, 2013

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.

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