Ecosystem Exchange: Creating fundable companies

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By Daniel Natal, author, and owner of Natal Videography Services

What: NEXT Ecosystem Exchange – How to Create Fundable Companies: From Seed to Exit (an educational event for entrepreneurs, startups, and those interested in investing in startups. Venture capitalists from D.C, New York, and Silicon Valley spoke to guests on what they look for in companies seeking funding)
Where: Clemson ONE Auditorium, downtown Greenville
Who was there: Community leaders, business leaders, startup founders, angel investors, aspiring entrepreneurs, and those interested in venture capital

On Thursday, May 17, in downtown Greenville, the NEXT organization sponsored an evening with Paul Singh, of ResultsJunkies.com, as well as Brooke Navarro and Ben Freeland, both of whom are investment bankers at Barclay’s. All three came to share their thoughts about what makes companies attractive to investors.

As the assembly subsided into an attentive silence, Paul Singh took the stage. A native of India, he shared many valuable insights into the decentralizing effects of technology and the opportunities that this was opening up to people around the world.

Now with the ability to do business anywhere, he said, “You don’t have to leave Greenville to build something big; you just have to think big.”

After sharing the success stories of many daring startups, Singh said, “In building your company, don’t look to attract entrepreneurs; look to attract ‘entrepreneurish.'”

Ben Freeland, of Barclay’s, echoed this point when he took the stage. He said that the single most important criterion in a company’s ability to attract outside investment is their corporate culture. Freeland’s colleague, Brooke Navarro, endorsed his remarks by adding, “Many successful companies stall out at the $30 million level. Once they hit that plateau, they can’t seem to get much higher; and, when you examine it, it’s invariably because they failed to create an effective corporate culture.”

Freeland would return to this theme later, when asked by emcee Alex Estevez what advice he had for entrepreneurs in the room. He said simply, “Team-building is the most important thing you can do. It’s the first thing that outsiders see when coming into your company. Just walking into a business, you can feel the vibe in the air.”

Freeland added that “corporate culture” was a sort of barometer that venture capitalists use to assess the future prospects of a company.

And it was at this juncture that the two guest speakers from Barclay’s Bank presented their most pronounced contrast to fellow speaker Singh. Whereas Singh stressed the triumph of the individual entrepreneur, Freeland and Navarro stressed the importance of process. The two messages were not contradictory. Rather, Singh’s perspective was that of the small nimble startup of the 21st century (where more emphasis was placed on innovation than size), whereas the two investment bankers from Barclay’s were harking back to an older 21st-century industrial conception of operations of scale.

The official theme of the evening was “Creating Fundable Companies: From Seed To Exit,” so the two perspectives complement each other perfectly, as they both cast light on how companies attract capital when they’re young and small, and, by contrast, how they elicit the interest of financiers after they’ve attained a certain size and prestige.

The event put on by the organizers of NEXT presented a well-rounded perspective of businesses at all stages of their development and how those companies (at their respective evolutionary junctures) might best attract capital. The audience in attendance was, needless to say, intellectually engaged by every minute of the keen discourse.

Their engagement was less intellectual than emotional, however, when, at the end of the evening, Venture South’s Matt Dunbar received the Phyfer Innovation Award for his many years of work in the Upstate regarding economic development and his extensive angel investment activities.

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