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Finding the next big startup – Dozens of Stanford entrepreneurs meet with venture capitalists

By Joe Ciolli | 25 Feb 2011

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Venture capitalists meet with Stanford entrepreneurs to assess and provide feedback on their startup ideas. (Photo: Joe Ciolli)

Face time with venture capitalists is a hot commodity in the Silicon Valley startup community. Entrepreneurs often fork over exorbitant registration fees for the chance to meet with potential investors at conferences. But for fledgling Stanford-based business owners, Friday’s VC3 event was a prime opportunity to make an impression on venture capitalists, free of charge.

VC3, part of Entrepreneurship Week at Stanford, was set up to give student business owners three minutes to pitch an idea, after which the venture capitalist gave three minutes of feedback. Venture capitalists from six distinct sectors were in attendance, and each business team was guaranteed six meetings within a specific field.

While some entrepreneurs might enter a venture capital meeting hoping to come away with a check, many student participants at VC3 had a different outlook. Rather than focus on funding, they were aiming for any advice that could improve their pitch and improve their business.

“The purpose isn’t to get funded,” said management science and enginnering student Makoto Kondo. “I’m just looking for personal feedback from professional venture capitalists.”

Lateral Sports co-founder and management science and engineering Ph.D. Tom Bleymaier agreed. “We’re just trying to plant the initial seed with some of these firms.” Bleymaier’s company helps people discover where they can follow their favorite sporting events.

The venture capital firms themselves share a similar view on what they hope to accomplish by participating in VC3. “We’re interested in getting to know these teams early on,” said Manu Kumar, founder of early stage fund K9 Ventures. “We want to give them feedback and get them going in the right direction.”

If student entrepreneurs are fortunate enough, laying this early foundation can lead to results further down the line. Kumar mentioned that he formed relationships at last year’s event with several companies that he is now looking to fund.

But not all Stanford students were prepared to settle for simple feedback. Katrina Pikhart, founder of 6dot Innovations and a mechanical engineering student, made no secret of the fact that she wanted to leave VC3 with funding. Her company that prints Braille labels to help blind users organize and find their belongings. However, Pikhart is a unique case, as 6dot Innovations was developed at SSE Labs, Stanford’s student start-up incubator. As a result of this program, Pikhart’s company entered VC3 at a later stage than most in attendance.

Michael Silverman, co-founder of Locra, a company that helps high school and college students discover volunteer opportunities, is also a management systems and engineering student. He provided a slightly different take on the VC3 experience. “VCs are really looking for people. Regardless of the company you represent, if they see that you can execute an idea, then they’ll listen to what you have to say.”

Below are some of the notable student startups showcasing at VC3:
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6dot Innovations
A provider of products and services that transform the daily experiences of Braille users. The company’s first product is a hand-held machine that prints Braille labels that blind people can use to organize their belongings.

Lateral Sports
A sports aggregation site that tells users when, where and how to follow any sporting event at the professional, college and high school levels. Listings will comprehensively show how to follow a game on TV, online or on the radio.

Locra
An open database for high school and college students to find nearby volunteer opportunities and share them with friends. The latest version features geolocation-enabled way to discover volunteering opportunities near users and deep integration with Facebook Connect.

Nextmeal
A recommendation site that helps consumers choose restaurants and dishes. The site uses a Netflix-style recommendation tool to aggregate diner data and allow users to discover new restaurants.

Sircles
Online service that enables priority communication and sharing within specific groups of people. The service helps people segment their social graph to reflect real-life relationships by creating a platform layer on top of existing social networks like Facebook.

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