You're not sure if you're raising funds for your startup this year. Does that mean you should blow off venture conferences as a waste of time? Not so fast. People who attend venture conferences have the world's most precious commodity in common: change. If you're shopping for transformation, going to venture conferences is like going to the mall. It's all there, and much of it is on sale.
For example, next week, I'm excited about trekking to Chattanooga for the fourth annual demo day at GigTank. I'll see an array of creative, ultra-high bandwidth applications that have been incubating all summer–stuff I can't even imagine. And that's the point.
I'm also really excited about Venture Atlanta, an annual conference which is also a client at my Atlanta public relations firm Write2Market. It occurs about three miles from my backyard every October. Companies that have pitched at Venture Atlanta have raked in $1.4 billion in funding to date and celebrated over $13 billion in exits. Venture Atlanta accepts startup applications from companies in the Southeast through August 14. However, even if you're not fundraising this year, here's why attending venture and startup conferences can pay off big:
"As a growing firm, there are two resources that you can never have enough access to–people and money," says David Trice, CEO and co-founder at Engage.CX and a former VP at Oracle. He raised money this year to build his cloud-based customer relationship platform. David knows many people at venture conferences won't be in the same role in a year or two. If you're building out your special forces team, a venture conference can be a great place to spot rare talents you won't ever see at a job fair.
He shares, "Because conferences like Venture Atlanta attract the best and smartest minds from the surrounding community, they are a great avenue to stay connected to growth capital and trends and constantly recruit the best people." To his point, Venture Atlanta usually brings attendees from Coca-Cola, Turner Broadcasting, Cisco, HP, IBM, Fiserv, Amazon, UPS, Georgia Pacific, NCR, Oracle, Global Payments, AT&T Foundry–and the list goes on. Your regional venture events will showcase a similar variety of nearby fulcrums you can leverage.
Venture conferences help you get perspective on the business of changing the world. By attending startup conferences over time, you build a natural sense of this critical rate of change. For example, in 1926, Nikola Tesla made a number of outrageous predictions including, "Perhaps the most valuable application of wireless energy will be the propulsion of flying machines, which will carry no fuel and will be free from any limitations of the present airplanes and dirigibles." It sounded insane in 1926. Today, we have over 90 engineers and dreamers working on Solar Impulse, which will one day circumnavigate the globe on solar energy and can already can do 5,000 miles nonstop.
Another reason you'll love going to venture conferences is the inspiration, like I'm looking forward to from my trip to Chattanooga next Tuesday. No matter which business you are in, operating your business is a marathon of making methodical progress. At venture conferences, I get the opportunity to imagine what-ifs with other people doing the same thing. I always come back to my daily grind with my lenses reground by the energy of all those opportunities in one room.
Spence McClelland, partner at Noro Moseley Partners (NMP), an Atlanta-based VC, sees the the networking at venture conferences as at least as important as the fundraising. "Some of the most valuable connections made at venture conferences by entrepreneurs are with other entrepreneurs from other areas or industries that can be helpful to their own business. And as it relates to investors, sometimes talking with many different investors at once is a good way to evaluate whether you do or do not want to raise capital at some point and with whom."
NMP walks the talk--they attend the Florida Venture Forum, CED in North Carolina, Dig South in Charleston, MAVA, SEVC, Venture Atlanta, and also industry conferences with venture tracks like HIMSS. In other words, you are almost more likely to connect with an active VC like Spence at a conference than you are at his office. Recently, one of their portfolio companies, VirtuStream, was acquired by EMC at a $1.2B valuation in an all-cash deal--bringing up another important reason to go to venture conferences.
Venture conferences and startup events present the most exciting product on the planet--big ideas, price negotiable. They are an ideal place to find undervalued "pieces and parts" that your business needs. Not all entrepreneurs are that type that want to sweat building their ideas out--many are glad to talk about how to transfer them to you so that they can get back to dreaming up more ideas.
So don't go to venture conferences only thinking about asking for money and not giving up too much equity. Venture conferences are tradeshows for world shakers. In second quarter this year, venture capitalists invested $17.5 billion across 1189 deals, just to give you a taste of how much change is out there. Go find a venture event that's right for you and see what shifts.