A new monthly get-together is giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their ideas, get feedback, and connect with investors, all in less than two hours.
Called the Hatchery, the event is geared to technology startups. It is rapidly becoming a critical meeting place for businesses looking for funding.
Held at locations as various as Merrill Lynch's headquarters in the World Financial Center and a North Fork Bank branch, the Hatchery offer two options to entrepreneurs: the Gauntlet, where companies have seven minutes to present their ideas and then field vigorous questioning from a panel of judges, and Hatch Match, a type of speed dating that allows entrepreneurs and investors to engage in spitfire networking.
"Its kind of being in the same position as a contestant on 'American Idol,'" Matt Coleman, the CEO of txttunes.com, a text message music distribution and social networking service, said after competing recently in the Gauntlet.
The 30-year-old, Taiwanese-born president of graphic design company Gigapixel Creative, Yao-Hui Huang, launched the Hatchery in April to spur conversations between investors and entrepreneurs. "Both sides couldn't talk to each other," she said, adding that the New York technology scene "doesn't have that feeling of working together and helping each other out" as is common in other places, such as California's Silicon Valley.
Only companies that have some track record should apply to participate in the Hatchery, Ms. Huang, suggests. Recent competitors, for example, were software company Mobile Commons, which had a positive cash flow after just one year, and food company Neighborhood Spice, which had obtained the airline JetBlue as a client.
In order to present at the Hatchery, entrepreneurs must fill out a detailed application, and after just seven months, competition to be participate in the event is heating up. "Last month, we got 30 applications," Ms. Huang said. After a company is selected for the event, they are given access to mentors who help them with their business plan, perfect their pitch, and advise them on their presentation style. This is paid for via support from Ms. Huang's company as well as the events' sponsors, including the law firm Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge, Columbia University's Graduate School of Business, North Fork Bank, and Merrill Lynch.
Ms. Huang doesn't make money off the events, but may begin charging to cover costs. The mentors are excited to lend their time free of charge, she said.
The judges at the most recent event included: founder of Tipping Point Partners, Arthur Chang, director of Broadcast International, Kirby Cochran, Vice Chair of Shamrock Holdings, Abigail Disney, and President of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Shelly Palmer.
Each month, the event has a topic. November's topic was new media, with presenters that included eSession.com, a Web site that allows musicians to collaborate with each other; Swoot, which transforms Web-enabled applications for the desktop, and RedLasso, which allows users to create clips of certain words or phrases from radio and television and post them on Web.
Hatch Match was started in August, after Ms. Huang heard complaints that the Gauntlet didn't provide enough time for presenters and audience members — as many as 150 people — to network. The events are held at different times and venues. While the Gauntlet provides judges who critique a business plan, Hatch Match gives entrepreneurs five-minute appointments to meet all different types of professionals, including investors, lawyers, accountants, and financial planners.
"I have been to a lot of networking events where people don't get to meet who they want to meet," Ms. Huang said.
The next item on Ms. Huang's agenda is workshops. "I want to address issues in a more formal way," she said.
In the meantime, this maven of technology is launching Hatchery live, a multimedia integration where the events will be streamed in real time. Questions and comments will be shown at the event. "Although they can't be there physically, they can still participate," Ms. Huang said.