A Post-Crash Crash Course for Startups

Will the dour climate for funding encourage dot-com hopefuls to shell out big bucks for tips on how to attract venture capital?

At first blush, this sure seems like a lousy time to hold a confab for budding Netrepreneurs in New York's Silicon Alley. After all, you don't have to look hard to find the bloodstains of failed dot-com ventures all over lower Manhattan. Now that VCs have grown decidedly picky about whom they fund, why does conference organizer Rick Friedman think he can get 300 dot-com hopefuls to plunk down the best part of $1,000 apiece for a two-day crash course for startups at New York's Baruch College?

Precisely because it's so tough out there.

iStartup Fever, slated for Jan. 29 and 30, was organized by Baruch alum Friedman as a way to promote the college, which is located in the heart of New York's new media community, as a center for entrepreneurship. Friedman promises an intensive, two-day "accelerator" program for early-stage companies to help them "get traction in 2001," according to the event's Web site (iStartupfever.com).


  More than 40 small-biz experts, angels, and VC investors are scheduled to speak on topics ranging from whether to consider an incubator to tips on raising money in a tough market. Among the speakers: Alan Meckler, chairman and CEO of Internet.com, and Joseph Park of Kozmo.com. Friedman says he has only just started to promote the event, which costs $895, and hasn't formally registered any participants yet. Feeling a bit adventurous? Spend an extra $50 and you also get a chance to compete for 1 of the 40 slots that Friedman has reserved for "speed pitching." Patterned after the newly popular "speed dating" events that allow singles to move from chair to chair and spend a few minutes in intense conversation with each of a succession of potential lovemates, prospective entrepreneurs will get 10 five-minute one-on-one "dates" with 10 different startup backers.

The "money guys" include angels, the semiprivate networks of "archangels," and small VC firms. At least one of these ventures will get funded, organizers promise. Baruch is sponsoring the event to bring visitors to the college and promote its new conference center.


  "It used to be almost everybody got funded. Now it's maybe 1 in 10," says 46-year-old Friedman, who says he sold his own software publishing company, SIG Publications, last year. Although he now describes himself as retired, he has a new business, Mindshare Ventures Inc., which holds conferences, advises a VC fund, and does some angel investing. While getting money for an Internet startup is more challenging than ever, it's not impossible, asserts Friedman. Sure, it's true that angel investors have less discretionary income. Gone, too, are the days of the $10 million valuations right out of the gate. And that may be a good thing. Says Friedman: "The idea of this becoming a get-rich scheme has really gone away. That's not gonna happen, but you can really grow a business."

A case in point: It took him 11 years, he says, to become "an overnight success."

By Robin D. Schatz in New York

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