The annual Venture Atlanta conference is basically our city’s version of ABC’s Shark Tank, where fledgling entrepreneurs pitch their concepts to investors from across the nation. In fact, “Shark” Mark Cuban delivered last year’s closing keynote address.
“The goal was to bring more venture capital to Georgia,” says executive director Allyson Eman, describing the event’s launch in 2007. “We had very few funds that were helping companies.” Since then, Venture Atlanta has become the region’s largest such conference and has facilitated more than $2.5 billion in financing, including support for local success stories like Kabbage, Parkmobile, Pindrop Security, and Roadie.
The conference was the brainchild of the Atlanta CEO Council, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG). “The first year, we had about 400 people, about 20 funds,” says Eman. “Flash-forward 10 years . . . and we have about 1,000 people and close to 140 venture capital funds.” In 2017, 35 companies pitched for growth funds, and another 15 gave presentations.
Companies apply for the opportunity to make short, elevator pitch–type presentations, roughly five minutes each. Time slots are awarded based on factors such as revenue, market size, leadership, and innovation. “We typically get several hundred applications,” explains Eman. “If a company is selected, they get invitations to dinners, they get coaching, they get to meet with investors one-on-one, they get to present on stage, they get tickets to the conference, and it’s all free.”
Alumni connections can pay off long after the initial boost. After pitching their company, Car360, in 2016 (and securing financing from Cuban), Bruno and Rebecca Francois leveraged their relationships into an opportunity to meet Carvana CEO Ernie Garcia, whose company acquired their firm for $22 million earlier this year.
This article originally appeared in our November 2018 issue.