By Heather Martin
The entrepreneurial spirit is the key to unlocking the door to greater economic vitality and empowerment. One organization, Tech Coast Venture Networks [TCVN], is making it a point to contribute to this growth through their organizational mission.
Their mission is to “educate and assist entrepreneurs in emerging growth companies, connecting them with capital and value-added resources to help their businesses grow. We aim to be the first place a new or existing entrepreneur connects with when starting or growing their business.”1
TCVN is the sponsor of an annual business pitch event entitled the “Survivor” series that has now become the largest of its kind in Southern California (for early stage business pitch contests). Last year TCVN provided a cash investment to the winner, Hive Lighting. Runners up were SWAV LLC and Rode Dog (who had an 11 year old CEO!). In prior years, prizes were related to service providers. Their former Chairman Bart Greenberg had originally created this idea with their board almost 8 years ago.
TCVN President Ash Kumra rated previous events as a big success. “Survivor 7 made an impact for the Southern California entrepreneur ecosystem. It was inspiring to see one of the few times local leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs came together to help fund the next big idea.”3
Even seasoned entrepreneurs, such as Gene Alexander, found great value from interacting with the TCVN organization. Gene had a prior startup in Silicon Valley, and when he moved to Orange County, he attending many events to seek support and an ecosystem for his next venture.
This new venture was named “MaMoCa” (pronounced mimosa) which he started in 2005 after leaving the faculty of Stanford Biomechanical Engineering. The technology he developed is an early stage example of human performance capture technology, similar to that utilized by the hit movie Avatar.
Gene says: “My first stop in building the company was to go to a number of networking events here in Orange County. I tried TCVN, Octane, UC Irvine Entrepreneur Club, and a few of the angel groups such as Keiretsu, Tech Coast Angels [TCA], and Pasadena Angels. I kept coming back to TCVN for a number of reasons. The people were very inclusive, the content of the programs was invaluable, and I kept meeting great people who seemed honestly and sincerely interested in helping me get my company off the ground.”
He says that going to TCVN helped him crystalize his business idea and turn it into a reality because he was forced to give a 30-second pitch every month he attended which required him to hone his idea.
He adds, “You say it in front of a big group of people that might be interested in it and can reach out to you at the end of the program.”
Gene continues: “My first ‘hire’ from TCVN was Bart Greenberg, my venture attorney. I knew that [a venture attorney] was the first partner I needed and I interviewed a number of attorneys. Bart stood out as someone who was as determined to ‘own’ the start-up legal scene in OC as I was determined to make MaMoCa a success. From there, the connections snowballed: accounting help, PR help, fund-raising help, then a connection to Tri-Tech Small Business Development Center and the Rancho Santiago Community College Digital Media Center, where I became the first tenant.”
Along the way MaMoCa won the Orange County TCA Fast Pitch Competition “Best Presentation” award as well as the TCVN “Survivor competition.”
Gene says: “At that point we were really on a roll, and raised more than $700,000 in a first funding round with TCA. We used that money to develop a prototype of the system. We then raised another $400,000 from angel investors to commercialize the prototype and go out for a Venture Capital [VC] round. This was in the summer of 2008, we were trying to raise about $3-4 million for that round, but we were not successful in doing so. Eventually we ran out of money, but Bart and the other connections we made from TCVN stuck by us, and by the spring of 2009 we had found an acquirer for the company, Motion Analysis Corporation. We were able to negotiate an acquisition of MaMoCa by Motion Analysis that kept our investors whole, and I have been working for Motion Analysis until March of 2013, integrating and commercializing the MaMoCa technology.”
All in all, Gene says he doesn’t blame the economy solely for the challenges in raising the $3-4 million in 2008. He believes if they had made progress sooner they might have gotten the funding prior to the financial crisis. Important lessons he learned were to keep his VC attorney happy and to communicate clearly and often with investors and board members. Because of this, even though they did not get the funding they were looking for, investors were not surprised because of the attentive communication from Gene. Once MaMoCa was acquired, it was a surprise win for investors.
What can he teach other entrepreneurs about how to keep their head above water during time of volatility? Gene is clear: “You have to keep the adaptability going. If something is not working, stop going in that direction. Most startups don’t end up doing exactly what they start out doing, they pivot.”
For more information about upcoming TCVN events please visit: http://www.eventbrite.com/org/372922310?s=2887417
The TCVN Survivor 8 event will occur on the evening of Friday, November 8th, 2013.