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  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Neal Liggins of technology startup LocalStar pitches his company’s concept – designed to help independent musicians reach their fans – to golf tournament participants at Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills on Monday. Listening at left is potential investor Josh Pietak.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Solar energy company California Sunlight’s inventions are displayed by Bing Gu for the entrepreneurial contest as Jack Crawford, with sponsor Velocity Venture Capital, tees off.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Bing Gu, left, with solar energy firm California Sunlight, makes his pitch Monday to golf participants Mike Stone, center, and Tony Coss.

  • Manny Crisostomo /

    Zoozil founder Joseph Heinzen pitches his publishing company’s unique brand of factual fantasy books for kids to golf tournament participants at Serrano Country Club on Monday. Listening to the pitch from the tee were, from left, Kraig Speckert, Doug Van Order and Matt Lenzi.

More Information


    What it is: Online voting helps determine 10 business accepted into entrepreneurs accelerator

    Where to vote:

    Voting deadline: Aug. 15

    Cost: $1/vote

    Voting limits: None

Entrepreneur hopefuls make best pitch to investors on golf course and online

Published: Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 - 9:16 pm
Last Modified: Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014 - 12:38 am

It’s not unusual to talk some business during a round of golf.

But a recent area tournament subjected its well-heeled participants to full-on pitch at every hole.

It was all by design as 18 of the 22 companies competing for admission into Velocity Venture Capital’s entrepreneur accelerator program made their pitches to foursome after foursome Monday at the Serrano Country Club in El Dorado Hills in hopes of polishing their presentations and earning points toward participation in the coveted program. While the pitchfest did give the entrepreneurs face time with 50 potential investors, the primary goal was improving through the real-time feedback and score points.

Golf participants kept a pitch scorecard alongside their golf scorecard. The points earned through the golf tournament are combined with ongoing online voting to help determine the 10 firms selected for the eight-week accelerator program. The video pitch from each of the program contestants is available online. Each vote costs $1 and benefits nonprofit operation.

“You can vote 1,000 times. Vote-stuffing is encouraged,” said Monique Brown, executive director of Velocity’s nonprofit entrepreneurs campus.

The accelerator program, set at the firm’s Folsom campus, helps the young companies develop marketing, brand, sales and financing strategies. It runs September though December. This is the fifth year of the program.

“We are really trying to expose some of our best new entrepreneurs to angel investors,” said Gary Simon, a partner with Velocity Venture. “It takes a lot of preparation to get in front of investors.”

Jayan Ramankutty, one of of four venture investors who addressed the participants before the tournament began, called the experience invaluable. Early on in his ride from engineer to investor, he said, he was afraid to seek outside investors.

There is “no way to replicate being able to present in front of 40 to 50 mature investors,” said Ramankutty, managing partner of KRK Ventures LLC.

Perched on the 12th hole, the team from LocalStar – long on music experience and short on business experience – doesn’t seem like the typical golf clubhouse crowd.

Group spokesman Neal Liggins, who wears his dreadlocks neatly wrapped, said the application gives struggling artists the tools to connect with fans and convert them into subscribers for a small monthly fee that covers unlimited access to the group’s music and exclusive perks.

The message and model seemed to resonate with the foursome there to hear the pitch. A couple of them talked about their kids’ affinity for rap music.

“That is what we always talk about as business owner’s residuals,” said Doug Van Order, a managing partner at MassMutual Northern California.

Another member of the foursome called it “mailbox money.”

Liggins said the team figured there had to be a better way for artists who aren’t signed to major labels to smooth out a sporadic revenue stream. When they zeroed in on the LocalStar idea, they decided their efforts were better spent seeking real investors, rather than launching a crowdfunding campaign. He said the process has forced them to answer many questions they hadn’t contemplated early on.

The investors’ scores of the companies’ pitch and general viability were converted into online votes, giving those companies a leg up toward selection for the incubation program. LocalStar was rewarded with 90 additional votes. With 865 votes total, LocalStar at press time was in fifth place.

Interactive reading platform Zoozil racked up 1,000 extra votes, catapulting it to third place with 1,055 total votes.

Zoozil creator Joseph Heinzen connected with golfers by offering his personal reason for creating self-directed storytelling books.

“I was diagnosed as being learning-disabled,” Heinzen said. He said the diagnosis turned out to be wrong – he just needed a product like Zoozil. He found the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books to be just the thing.

Online small-business booking application Fora scored well on the golf course and is scoring well with online voters. It had 1,963 votes as of press time.

Other companies vying for inclusion in the accelerator program include medication security system Safer Lock, wireless networking company Tallac Networks, solar cooker company California Sunlight and beehive sensor maker Cyberkinetics.

Jack Crawford, the managing partner of Velocity Venture Capital, said the incubator program and year-round efforts are helping to diversify the Sacramento economy. He said all of the companies that completed the program are still in operation and four or five have positive cash flow.

“There are more entrepreneurs creating technology companies here,” Crawford said. “There are a lot of reasons to get excited about what is happening here.”

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher

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