LaunchPad, EisnerAmper pitch in on VC

Lone wolf: Marina Montes, founder of urSwim, is not afraid of big, bad investors.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

Six Long Island startups made their way to Midtown Manhattan Monday night to pitch directly to top-shelf investors, a golden opportunity that could serve as a template for a new regional investment consortium.

Organized by LaunchPad Huntington and national accounting stalwart EisnerAmper, the pitch-a-thon was held at EisnerAmper’s Third Avenue offices and put the startups in front of 11 angel investors, seed funds and venture-capital groups – a bring-them-to-the-mountain moment meant to expose Long Island’s brightest innovators to a new level of potential investor.

“One of the big complaints that Long Island companies looking for funding have involves Long Island’s finite investment community,” noted Phil Rugile, who heads LaunchPad’s Huntington-based co-working space. “We can never seem to attract outside investors, especially from Manhattan and the boroughs.

“It seems many investors look at Long Island as that big green patch you fly over to get to the Hamptons.”

On call: Nomorobo founder Aaron Foss makes his pitch Monday night.

On call: Nomorobo founder Aaron Foss makes his pitch Monday night.

Startups in New Jersey have “the same problem,” according to Rugile, who was discussing the issue with Alan Wink, a Garden State resident and EisnerAmper’s Manhattan-based capital markets director, who was on Long Island for a LaunchPad Huntington roundtable discussion.

Rugile noted the prevalence of “big investment groups” in Philadelphia and Boston and suggested building a “consortium of investors” that could work directly with innovators in the Greater New York region, including those stemming from south and east of the city.

Wink, who is also an investor with the Jumpstart NJ Angel Network, readily agreed.

“I spoke at an event in Boston a few months ago featuring 30 angel groups, one of several times a year these groups came together to hear pitches,” Wink told Innovate LI. “After speaking at a LaunchPad Huntington event, I thought we should consider doing something like this with LaunchPad.

“I saw there were some great companies out on Long Island,” he added. “So I asked, ‘How can we make these companies more visible?’”

Agreeing that the “path of least resistance,” at least for the consortium’s first go, would be to gather investors and entrepreneurs in the Big Apple, Rugile and Wink set to arranging Monday’s event, which ultimately drew representatives of 11 investment groups.

Making pitches Monday night were representatives of Huntington-based swimming-instruction enterprise urSwim, Stony Brook-based medical-imaging specialist SynchroPET and Port Jefferson-based robocall-blocker Nomorobo.

Also pitching: Hicksville-based social media-management app Bettr, Northport Village-based cybersecurity expert Code DX and PerformXHealth, a Software as a Service platform focused on improving healthcare-provider performance.

The startups made their cases to a crowd of investors from across New York, New Jersey and even Long Island, including serial investor Rich Foster’s Angelfire Ventures, the Long Island Capital Alliance and Gust, a Manhattan-based investment network with operations in NYC, Florida and California, as well as overseas.

Also on hand, among others, were representatives of NYC-based funds ff Venture Capital and Expansion Venture Capital; seed fund/business accelerator KEC Ventures; and Wink’s Jumpstart NJ Angel Network, a member-led angel group targeting early-stage technology ventures in the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

The presenters were chosen by Rugile based on previous pitches at LaunchPad events and “realizing who in our broader network was at the right point to pitch an audience like this,” he noted.

The LaunchPad Huntington honcho teamed up with Wink on the investor invitations, determined to give the Long Island startups “a larger investment opportunity than they might get at a typical LaunchPad pitch night,” Rugile added.

Marina Montes, founder of urSwim, said she didn’t come away from the EisnerAmper-hosted event with any new capital investments, but was excited by the opportunity to present her startup to a larger world and thrilled by the “great feedback” she received from those in attendance.

“Having the chance to put my business out there in any capacity is a great opportunity, but especially putting it in front of really well-respected business mentors and venture capitalists,” Montes said.

While it was slightly unnerving to stand up in front of such a high-caliber collection of investors, such challenges are par for the course for the successful small-business owner in growth mode, Montes noted.

“I’ve had the privilege of pitching at various competitions and pitch nights and in closed rooms with VCs, and it’s always a little nerve-wracking,” she said. “These businesses are our passions and we want people to know what they really are, while trying to grow them.

“So the nerves are always there,” Montes added. “Any time I feel those butterflies in my stomach, I feel like I’m a step closer to my goal.”

Also a step closer to their mutual goal are Rugile and Wink, who see Monday’s event as a worthy first swing for their regional investment consortium. Still assessing their first gathering, they’re already considering future installments, including a regional road show that highlights innovators from different regions, visits various locations and attracts a rotation of high-rolling investors.

“We’d like to wrap this around the region,” Rugile noted. “This was a good start to the conversation and it piqued some interest, and now we can think about turning it into a three- or four-time-a-year event.”

Wink, who said the next gathering would “probably be back in New York City,” foresees a future where consortium events are organized by industry or sector.

“As this progresses, we might be able to skew one toward healthcare IT and skew one toward education technology,” the EisnerAmper capital markets director said. “But as first steps go, this was great. We had 25 solid investors in the room.”