Arizona Technology & Innovation: Venture Catalyst Startup Rapid Pitch

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Entrepreneurs recently had the opportunity to present their business ideas to some of the finest business minds in Arizona at the ASU Venture Catalyst Startup Rapid Pitch. It’s a signature component of Tempe’s Geek Week.

Gordon McConnell, Assistant Vice President for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Venture Acceleration at Arizona State University’s SkySong, told us about the event and Geek Week. Read the transcript of our conversation with McConnell below.

Ted Simons: “Arizona Horizon” regularly brings the latest news on Arizona technology and innovation issues. Tonight we learn about the venture catalyst start-up rapid pitch, which was recently held as part of Tempe’s geek week. Joining us is Gordon McConnell, assistant Vice President for innovation, entrepreneurship, and venture acceleration. And Arizona State University skysong, good to see again.

Gordon McConnell: Good to see you, but boy that title was way too long.

Ted Simons: [laugh] You can tell the importance of the guest by how long the title is. Before we get too deeply into this, ASU venture catalyst, what are we talking about?

Gordon McConnell: The start-up of the University so that’s why you keep bringing me back. I live start-up so every day my schedule goes away very quickly because start-up is coming. So we work with 40 at any given time.

Ted Simons: Talk about this pitch, how does that work?

Gordon McConnell: It was the early part of geeks night out, which was big geeky event as part of the tech festival, part of the geek week, supported by the Mayor, and we did the afternoon session so we were looking at bringing in very early stage, these were ideas that we were just starting or less than six months old so we’re talking about baby companies here, and it was often their first time that they pitched in front of an audience. We had support across the street from city hall, and they are, they offered some marketing support for, for the winners, and we had a law group with legal packages, which is important for early stage companies. And we had six of them, they pitched in front of a panel including the, the sponsors, and we had an independent panel and it was interesting to see the companies, you know, scary moments standing up in front of an audience.

Ted Simons: And they only had five minutes.

Gordon McConnell: Five minutes plus five minutes of questions. So, it was very fast.

Ted Simons: And 6%, how did, why down to six? Was this a criteria here?

Gordon McConnell: Yeah. We looked at who was applying and made sure that we had a good quality because don’t want — I have people have ideas but you want something in the process of start, and all these companies were in the process of starting in some shape or form.

Ted Simons: So when you get to the six finalists they have five minutes of follow-up questions. What was the criteria there?

Gordon McConnell: We were looking at highly pitched on the day, the sustainability, and how far they advanced it in the time that they had begun, so they have a set of eight sets of criteria, and they went off into a room, and we waited patiently no an hour for them to come out, and they came out with an answer. There was smoke. [Laughter]

Ted Simons: Ok, and the winner was?

Gordon McConnell: Very interesting. And anybody who is interested in senior care or assisted living. We have a baby boomer generation, which are retiring, and this allows you to go on for free, which is interesting. And onto their site, they have 50 sites, and they give an in-depth video tour all of these senior care facilities. And they allow you to take notes and allow to share this with other family members who are in other parts of the U.S. because this is a family decision a lot of times. They have up to date information on these care facilities. So, you are not going and spend an hour traveling to one and find there is no rooms because it will tell if there is availability of rooms or apartments. So, you can sit down with your parent, and do it from your living room, and it saves you a huge amount of time. It’s free. And for, for the facilities themselves, and if there is any out there, that are interested in talking to you, because usually, it’s for an intermediary, so this is about taking that out. They can charge up to a month’s rent, ok, to do these deals, and they have your information. Living doesn’t share this with anybody unless you want to talk specifically to, to a care center that you have looked at. So, it’s radical. We find love on the internet and rent house and is apartments and why not do this for an important thing, and allow the family to be involved. It’s a great idea. They set it up in November, and they have got 50 facilities. And they have got customer and revenue and we’re in February. So that helped them win, I think.

Ted Simons: A clumsy analogy would be like You throw out what you want.

Gordon McConnell: Or if you want to rent an apartment, you get tours, but they are really significant. You feel like you are there.

Ted Simons: And late living, did they win because of the particular idea, the machinations involved? How, how strong they were?

Gordon McConnell: I wasn’t in the room when the judges happened to be there but I believe it was a mixture of all, and, and the, the founder, Kris Wilson, presented, he was fantastic, and I have to, to admit he’s one of ours, he’s — they were an institute start-up. I was not in the judging room when it happened so I’m clean, but we trained them well. So he was really good. And he’s a graduate. The other co-founder is a current MBA student. We like them, and as I said, to be right there, in fairness, all six were, were impressed impressive for the level of which they are at, most of these are a few months old.

Ted Simons: Have all six got some, some start-up going here? Are they starting the operation?

Gordon McConnell: Most of them are in the process of starting operations.

Ted Simons: Let’s talk about geek week, and there was a lot of promotion for this.

Gordon McConnell: Right.

Ted Simons: And science, thriller promotion, wee we’re going to see, what was that?

Gordon McConnell: I guess it’s a celebration, it’s a fun event, and it’s part of geek week, the Walton assistant ability solutions initiative, and the, the sponsors of geek night, and we were the, the sponsors of week geek. Week. It’s a celebration of the subject. So 20% of the jobs in Tempe are, are tech related and we obviously want to build the next generation these. And to show kids that technology interesting and a fun lead to a career, and there were a lot of people there, and, you know, I was the Lord of geek week, which I am happy to be, and unfortunately I don’t get any land or states or anything but I launched Comic Con, which a lot of my friends back at home were jealous of. And in costume, and so, I played ball as well, there were a lot of vampires, a significant amount of zombies to the point that I would be nervous, so a lot of people dressed up but there was a serious side because obviously, you want to encourage these kids to show that science and technology are not subjects that are boring, they are quite interesting, and they lead to real things, there was an electron microscope from Rio Salado College, and ASU nano fab, and ASU’s college of technology and innovation were there showing what it’s like to train to be a pilot. The University of Technology were there with robots. So, it was really fun, a family kind of oriented event, and they think that they had 4,000 people in the evening, a lot of stuff to see and fun.

Ted Simons: So, this was something that will stick for a while here?

Gordon McConnell: Yeah, this is the second year, we had 20 schools and the Mayor and the council folk and the city were fantastic, and that they would come up with this. And it is important, but it is fun at the same time.

Ted Simons: Well, congratulations on this, the late living sounds like a fantastic idea.

Gordon McConnell: It’s really good. Yeah. And good timing, I say, baby boomers.

Ted Simons: Yeah. No kidding. And whatever it was that you were during geek week, congratulations.

Gordon McConnell: Thank you, sir. I was wearing a hat.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us.

Gordon McConnell, Assistant Vice President for Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Venture Acceleration, Arizona State University's SkySong

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