2009-09-17 / Business News

Gulf Coast Venture Forum could hold 'the secret sauce' for start-up success

This is it. You've decided to take the leap and start a business. You've got a well thought-out business plan, the support of friends and family, even the perfect space all picked out.

All you need now is capital.

But where to go? Who to ask?

Sure, you could raise the money yourself or get a bank loan and then struggle to get customers.

Instead, why not present your idea to the Gulf Coast Venture Forum, a nonprofit corporation of local accredited investors, known as Angel Investors, who are eager to invest monetarily in a qualified company and who also bring a wealth of knowledge and connections to help you get your business off the ground.

The GCVF consists of high-net-worth individuals, most who have run their own companies or served as CEOs of some big-name brands, and have since retired in Southwest

Florida. "We have a rich Angel Investor community here not only of money but of advice, counsel and mentorship," says Tim Cartwright, GCVF president. "With

their financial discipline, focus and expertise, we might just have the secret sauce here that propels new business."

CARTWRIGHT CARTWRIGHT Competition is fierce, however, to get time in front of the 60-plus investors, Mr. Cartwright says, adding the number of entrepreneurs who actually get that coveted 20-minute presentation is small. The GCVF receives up to 30 applications each month and limits the number of presenters to three at each of its six meetings, held November through April.

There are two chapters: one in Naples, established in 2001, and a second starting in Sarasota this October. There is still one selection committee, but this gives each presenter the unprecedented opportunity to go before two groups of potential investors.

While the GCVF does entertain applications via its Web site from entrepreneurs all over the United States and even into Canada, it gives preference to those in Florida, particularly Southwest Florida. "Most investing occurs within two to three hours of where the investors live," Mr. Cartwright says.

Given the state of the economy, GCVF expects to see its highest number of business plans during calendar year 2009. Through August 2009, it has reviewed nearly 150, whereas through all of 2008 the forum reviewed 141 proposals.

Those applying span all business sectors, from consumer products, including food and beverage, retail, restaurants and cosmetics, to medical devices and equipment, health care services and biotech. The majority are start-up companies, although the GCVF also entertains presentations from expansion-stage businesses.

Area companies that have benefitted from GCVF include NeoGenomics Laboratories and T3 Communications in Fort Myers, Disc Motion Technologies in Boca Raton and Lehigh Technologies in Naples, which has since relocated to Georgia.

"Capital is required for capitalism," says Mr. Cartwright. "But all money is not created equal. A dollar from an Angel Investor is not the same as a dollar from someone else."

The GCVF holds a kick-off meeting each year, the only meeting that is open to the public. In Naples, the meeting takes place at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at the Naples Grande Resort & Club; the Sarasota chapter follows with its kick-off meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. Each meeting will feature a panel of experts discussing funding options for entrepreneurs. The cost to attend is $65 if pre-registered and $75 at the door.

Visit www.gcvf.com for more information.

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