It looked like a big break.
Ed Tromczynski, president and COO of PlanSoft Corp., had nailed an appointment at a giant Wall Street investment firm, Patricof & Co. Ventures Inc.
Heading off to New York with his business plan, a projector, laptops and a PowerPoint presentation, he and his managers sat down in front of Patricof executives to request funding for their company, a provider of e-commerce solutions for the convention industry.
"Literally 17 minutes into the presentation, the main guy stands up and says, 'Thank you for coming in,'" Tromczynski remembers. "He must have seen fire in my eyes, and he said, 'Hold on. You guys have made it to the next level.'"
Tromczynski's presentation was so polished that he had won the deal in those few minutes. Inviting PlanSoft back for another meeting, the man continued, "Unless something goes hairy, we'll invest in the company."
Sure enough, Patricof has invested twice, plunking about $8 million into Twinsburg, Ohio-based PlanSoft.
Tromczynski credits Innovest, an annual Ohio venture capital conference, for helping to hone his skills of getting investors interested in his company -- and he's received more than $50 million in funding.
He learned to gear his presentation toward what investors want to know: The size of the market, the portion of that market your products can penetrate, the quality of your management team, your competitors, your partners and how quickly the market will adopt your product. Miss any of the points, he says, and you're out of the running.
"What Innovest ends up being for an entrepreneur is a boot camp in terms of it preparing you to hit the fund-raising trail," he says, referring to the preparation, rehearsal session, critique and trade show experience required of all presenters at the event.
"We go to kind of tune up our game, and we go to build up real strong relationships," Tromczynski says, noting Innovest has such benefits even though PlanSoft did not receive funding as a direct result of the event.
Entrepreneurs and investors alike have discovered the same: Innovest isn't just about the money.
William Custer, president and CEO of New Albany, Ohio-based Custer Capital Inc., has sponsored the event in the past and attends because of the "relationships, networking, meeting new people, sharing some best practices with what works and what doesn't work for our organization, keeping a pulse on what's happening in the area."
Bill Troy of Troy Research, a Bexley, Ohio-based company selected to present its business plan at Innovest 2000, found Innovest to be a valuable exercise because through it, he realized he did not want to seek venture capital after all.
"We decided to stop looking for funding as we learned more about the situation that would be required to do that," he says, noting the venture investment required him to give up a lot more of his company than what made him comfortable.
In fact, he decided to obtain a bank loan because of how interested lenders were in his company after the Innovest presentation.
"They said, 'You guys are generating cash here. You're an ideal candidate for a debt alternative in addition to or instead of equity financing,'" Troy says.
Like Tromczynski, Tim Bartlett, CEO and president of Columbus-based eGovNet Inc., did not raise any of his $5.5 million in funding directly through his Innovest presentation in 2000 but did find the event helped him refine his business plan and selling skills.
"Unless you have an antigravity machine today or a golden goose, if you will," Bartlett says, "I think you need to show very achievable milestones and reach those milestones to show investors that you're not a one-trick pony."
How to reach: Ed Tromczynski, PlanSoft Corp., (330) 405-5555 or www.plansoft.com; William Custer, Custer Capital Inc., (614) 855-9980 or www.custercapital.com; Bill Troy, Troy Research, (614) 231-7135 or www.troyresearch.com; Tim Bartlett, eGovNet Inc., (614) 509-4868 or www.egovnet.com
Joan Slattery Wall (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.