Several weeks ago, Hani Shabsigh and his business partners stood in front of a room of investors and gave a carefully sculpted pitch for their 6-month-old tech startup, Inbox. It was just practice — part of an intensive 16-week business development training program offered through TechLaunch — but still, it was a room full of investors, and Shabsigh and his partners were eager to impress.
Ten minutes later, the pitch was over. One of the investors raised his hand and said it seemed the founders were pitching three products instead of just one.
“We looked at the slides again and said, 'Wow, there's three stories here.' We need one story,” Shabsigh said.
That kind of feedback is what the TechLaunch training program is all about: fine-tuning a startup's business plan and pitch in preparation for this past Thursday — demo day — when the room was full of investors looking to invest, not critique.
That day, when Shabsigh took the stage to discuss how Inbox hopes to revolutionize text messaging, the pitch was totally different, he said. And as far as he can tell, it worked: Inbox came away from the event with multiple business cards from interested investors.
Inbox was among nine startups that went through the TechLaunch training and took the stage last week during demo day at Montclair State University. Caktus is trying to help people drink enough water. Prospect Predict wants to help salespeople find the right targets. Beautystat.com is an online marketplace looking to help women find the best deals on beauty products. And Hazarai For All Fankind is looking to create a 24/7 Comic Con experience online.
“It's a coming-out party,” said Mario Casabona, founder of TechLaunch, a Clifton-based accelerator. “What I tell the investors is, 'Bring your checkbook.' ”
One of those investors trolling for intriguing startups worthy of that next meeting was Ketan Patel, a principal with Murray Hill-based New Venture Partners, an early-stage investor in technology companies.
Patel said several of the startups seem to have the potential to cause disruption in their individual industries — something that piqued his interest. But he did not bring his checkbook, despite Casabona's tongue-in-cheek request.
“Writing the check is the easy part in this business,” Patel said. “It's finding the right project, the right team. That's the hard part.”
That kind of connection is what Inbox is hoping to get now, after completing its 16-week training. Its founders are looking for an investor who wants to be more than a checkbook — they need someone who will help the business grow.
“We hope we're building something good enough that it gets noticed,” Shabsigh said. “People who believe in the idea, that's validation for us that the idea is awesome.”
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