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In the hot seat

Photos by Dan Bishop

March 2014

A recent investment forum in Milwaukee.

If youíre an aspiring entrepreneur seeking money from angel investors, youíd better be prepared with a snappy pitch to get their attention. The popularity of the television series "Shark Tank," a reality-based show where entrepreneurs try to persuade wealthy people to fund their business, has infiltrated local business communities throughout the United States, and Milwaukee is no exception.

BizStarts, Milwaukeeís version of the "Shark Tank" pitch challenge, doesnít involve TV cameras or offer huge exposure, but it does put entrepreneurs in touch with local angel investors. And for start-ups looking for growth capital, that connection is essential.

"The whole point of BizStarts is to help companies become investment-ready so they can launch, grow and create jobs," says Dan Steininger, one of BizStartsís founders.

The organization, which launched in 2008, is committed to accelerating early stage businesses in southeastern Wisconsin.

Financial Aid

So how does pitching a group of angel investors work off-screen?

Though itís not quite like Shark Tankís quick, cut-throat contest-style format, BizStartís quarterly Investor Forum does have fledgling entrepreneurs appearing before a panel of investors to pitch their business ideas.

"The experience can be daunting," says Randy Spaulding, founder of Spaulding Clinical, who participated in one of BizStartís first angel investor programs in 2009.

BizStarts launched its Investor Forum in December 2012. Offered on a quarterly basis, the program puts investor-ready start-ups in front of a group of potential investors. Each company gets 15 minutes to pitch its business idea and then field questions. Following the program, interested investors sign up to meet with the companies.

"We invite investors to explore playing a role with local start-ups that hold huge potential," explains Steininger.

But not just anyone can join the Investor Forumís panel of investors. Jon Ann Willow, training and education coordinator for BizStarts, explains that interested angel investors must meet certain criteria, including proof of assets in excess of $1 million.

Promising Futures

Last fall, three start-ups fresh from BizStartís VentureTrack, a program that assists entrepreneurs at different stages from pre-launch through early stages of funding, attended the Investor Forum.

Among the presenters was Jesse DePinto of VoxelMetric, a developer of 3-D scanning hardware and software products that increase the speed and accuracy in the measuring process for custom-fit medical equipment like prosthetics and orthotics.

DePinto appeared before the investor panel to secure equity financing to expand VoxelMetricís capacity and production scale. "This is one of those technologies that has the potential to revolutionize and change the world," says DePinto.

Tom Evans attended the forum seeking financial assistance to continue moving his EasyG monitor prototype through the Food and Drug Administration approval process and eventually to market.

Evans co-developed the pocket-size monitor to help emergency responders instantly diagnose heart conditions using sensors that donít need to come in direct contact with a patientís skin.

Angela Widhany and Bob Boveja of ABL Technologies sought support from investors to help them bring their disruptive mapping system to market pending Food and Drug Administration clearance. With its unique patent protected technology, the innovative mapping system drastically reduces procedure times for radio frequency ablations used to treat heart arrhythmias.

Other Side of the Gauntlet

Spaulding Clinical, a research firm, based in West Bend, works with pharmaceutical companies to do first-in-human drug studies.

Today, Spaulding Clinical employees more than 200 people and has seen its sales grow exponentially over the last three years. But in 2009, the company needed an infusion of capital to get going. "I didnít have that kind of money personally," Spaulding says.

Thatís when an acquaintance introduced Spaulding to John Torinus, who co-founded BizStarts with Steininger. Spaulding met regularly with BizStarts to develop his business plan and eventually found himself in front of a large group of angel investors seeking venture capital to grow his business.

As a result, Spaulding Clinical raised $1.6 million and many of the companyís initial investors remain involved today.

"For me, the experience was very rewarding," Spaulding says. "Never give up on what you believe in," he says.



This story ran in the March 2014 issue of: