Last week, 16 Arizona companies gathered in Phoenix to participate in Venture Madness, a tournament that featured head-to-head competition of business pitches with tens of thousands of dollars for investment at stake.
The winner of Venture Madness was Phoenix-based Pinnacle Transplant Technologies, which repurposes cadaver tissue for use in surgeries.
“This is the first time I’ve been able to pitch and be in front of venture capitalists and people interested in furthering the development of my company” said Pinnacle CEO Gabriel Hyams. “This was our opportunity to get in front of people, and this is an unbelievable venue for access to these people.”
At the event, each of the company's representatives received 5 minutes to convince a panel of judges to award his or her company the investment opportunity.
"This five-minute presentation limit, with complex technology and a company with a lot of progress, awards and recognition...it's really hard," said Mike Powell, CEO of Strongwatch, one of the participants.
Powell's company makes advanced surveillance equipment. Among its products are a camera equipped with infrared, ,night vision and heat detection, mounted in the bed of a truck atop a retractable 30-foot mast.
The judges watching the competition are investment gurus, with experience helping startups get off the ground.
"I think Arizona (falls) under the radar for a lot of people (in regards to entrepreneurship)," said Curtis Gunn, chair of Desert Angels, a Tucson-based nonprofit for investors who seek opportunities in Southwest regional startups. “Arizona is an incredibly entrepreneurial place, specially Tucson. (The University of Arizona’s) McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship is top 5 in the country. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial activity that’s going on.”
Event organizers said they hoped Venture Madness will help connect investors and startups in Arizona. This means a company could walk out with a new investor, even if they don't end up with a prize.
While judges and audience members may have been guessing who they thought would win, they were also listening for future chances at investment.
"We're trying to grow Arizona companies," said David Cohen, investor at Desert Angels. "And any of us who are involved in the local community and local economy want to see this happen. We want to keep companies from having to leave the state to find capital, and this is all a part of building that ecosystem."
The final four teams in split $50,000 toward their startup.
More than 120 companies applied, and among participants were six businesses from the Tucson area.