Event merges forces of old, new venture-capital groups

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The third annual Innovation Showcase, taking place Tuesday afternoon near Broad Ripple, will be more than a major meet-and-greet for entrepreneurs and investors.

For the first time, the event will involve a partnership between a well-established force in the Indianapolis venture capital community and a fast-growing group that is one of its newest additions.

That collaboration—between the Venture Club of Indiana, a group founded in the mid-1980s for local investors, and Verge, a social group formed two years ago for the growing tech startup scene—carries significance that goes beyond the one-day Innovation Showcase. The meeting of old and new, coupled with the growth in this year’s showcase event, is a sign of the progress in the startup and fundraising landscape in the Indianapolis area, some local investors say.

“We’ve seen exponential growth in the sheer number of companies and investors that will be [at Innovation Showcase],” said Christopher Day, who has attended the event for the past two years and is a managing principal at Navidar Group LLC, an investment banking firm with offices in New York and Carmel. “That’s a testament to the momentum that’s happening. We’re starting to see that evolution.”

Organizers from both groups expect more than double the number of companies—from last year’s 25 to this year’s 55—and twice as many overall attendees, with 700 registered compared with about 350 a year ago.

Curt Hidde, president of the Venture Club, attributed the growth to the additional buzz generated from Verge’s involvement this year.

Verge, founded by a handful of 20-somethings in summer 2009, has a membership that has almost tripled to 1,100 since the beginning of this year. The group typically has to cap participation at its monthly events to 200 because of space available at its venue.

Innovation Showcase also will be hosted for the first time at the new headquarters for DeveloperTown LLC, at 5255 Winthrop Ave. DeveloperTown takes part cash, part equity to build Web-based software and mobile applications. Hidde said interest in seeing the company’s new site just south of Broad Ripple also helped pique excitement for the event.

The Innovation Showcase begins with a session for the participating companies to make one-minute pitches of their business plans to about 75 investors in attendance. After that, the event will open up to others in the startup and venture capital community for networking. More on the event can be found here.

The goal, said Verge founder Matt Hunckler, “is to make sure people get connected with the right people.” In some cases, that could mean investors—particularly those from out of state—finding the right business in which to place their cash. But it also involves deepening existing connections between businesses, service providers and investors that could lead to deals down the road.

The participating businesses, which were whittled down from a pool of 85 applicants, hail from across the state and include ventures in life sciences and alternative energy, as well as technology.

They include those in earlier stages of fundraising, such as Indianapolis-based personal finance software company MyJibe LLC, as well as more established startups with ample capital, such as Indianapolis-based search-engine optimization firm Slingshot SEO.

Investors will include local angel investors and venture-capital firms, as well as several out-of-state firms. Organizers declined to disclose names of investors prior to the event.

Both the Venture Club, with deep roots in the investment community ranging from angels to those involved in later-stage deals, and Verge, with its pulse on the emerging tech community, helped bring those parties to the table.

The Venture Club’s lunch-time meetings focus on helping members network while offering education on topics such as how to pick venture-capital partners. Verge’s evening gatherings, which typically offer party subs and keg beer, feature startups giving pitches to the crowd that often includes prominent tech-startup investors.

Organizers of both groups say they see the first-time partnership as a potential stepping stone for future collaboration, though it’s difficult to say what that will entail.

“I think it is in a way bridging a gap,” said Hunckler, the Verge founder, “But at the same time, it’s more a joining of hands and accomplishing more than either of us could have accomplished on our own."

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