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Pitch Event Could Bring In More Venture Capital For Wilmington Entrepreneurs

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Jan 4, 2024
CED Venture Connect is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase their companies. Wilmington founders have historically pitched on its stage each year. (Photo courtesy of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development)
Venture capital is the white whale of any entrepreneur, but it’s especially elusive in the Southeast.

Jim Roberts, the founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington, has repeatedly stated that funding is lacking in the Wilmington area.

“Right now is a really hard time to raise money,” he said. He points to high interest rates, inflation and a hard-to-predict economy as causing investor hesitation.

Several opportunities for venture capital and grant funding are approaching this year, one of which is the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s Venture Connect event in Raleigh on March 20 and 21.

Applications to pitch at the event close Friday. But even if a company is not on stage pitching, the event still offers a chance to network with investors from across the Southeast, said Jay Bigelow, the head of entrepreneurship at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development.

Wilmington consistently has a significant showing of entrepreneurs on stage at Venture Connect, Roberts said. As a resource for the area’s entrepreneurs, he said he has been adamant about reminding founders to apply.

“The entrepreneurs have to have their own fire in the belly and believe in their companies enough to apply,” he said.

Last year, there were about 250 applications, which were then narrowed down to about 170. Bigelow said most of the companies selected were looking for pre-seed or seed funding — a startup’s very first funding round — or series A funding — a funding round that takes place when a startup has a working prototype and is ready to scale.

Unlike many on-stage pitching events, there is no cash prize and no winner. This is not a pitch challenge, Bigelow said. Instead, the event is about giving entrepreneurs visibility and the chance to share their stories with as many people as possible. With so many venture funds around the country, it is difficult to know which is the best fit, Bigelow said.

Roberts, who serves on Venture Connect’s selection committee, said the prestige that comes with being selected to pitch on stage helps companies get more one-on-one attention from investors. Most entrepreneurs leave the event with five new networking contacts, Bigelow said.  

This event is not the best one for company leaders new to pitching, Bigelow said. It is the largest event of its kind in the state, he said, with an audience of 1,200 people and 150 to 200 entrepreneurs presenting and hundreds of investors listening.

“We do offer pitch support for the companies that get selected,” Bigelow said. “Definitely you're going to present better if you've done it 30 or 40 times. If you've never done it before, it's probably not going to be great, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Your first time you’ve got to do it somewhere.”
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