Biotech, software interests take place of dot.coms at venture capital forum
By Sherri C. Ranta
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to join investors, entrepreneurs and 19 Florida-based companies seeking equity financing next week in Miami at the state's only venture capital conference.
The 11th annual Florida Venture Capital Conference sponsored by the Florida Venture Forum will feature 19 back-to-back presentations from primarily biotech, software and health care companies to state and national investors, said Thomas E. Aucamp, 2002 chairman of the Florida Venture Forum and director of New River Capital Partners.
The event will be held Jan. 30-31 in the Doral Golf Resort & Spa.
"We have an exceptional group of qualified presenters this year from all the major regions in Florida," Mr. Aucamp said. "Most of these companies have already raised early stage capital, have revenues and are profitable."
The 2002 conference marks the governor's first appearance at the event, said forum Executive Director Jeanne A. Becker.
"We've invited him to speak several times," she said, "but this is the first year the conference has worked into his schedule."
The governor is known for his frequent trips to recruit more venture capital firms to the state. The address will be available by webcast at 12:15 pm on Jan. 31 at videonewswire.com/event.asp?id=2530.
about 1,000 people - sponsors, presenters and investors - are expected at Ms. Becker said this year's conference, which is designed to identify and showcase high-growth companies in the state looking for equity financing to venture capitalists and other private equity funding sources.
Presenters will have 12 minutes each for presentations. Generally speaking, venture capitalists or investors will then take six to nine months to research the companies or perform due diligence before any money is invest Ms. Becker said.
In the past 10 years, the conference has helped raise $424 million, Ms. Becker said, for companies such as Citrix Systems, Sportsline.com and Redgate Communications.
Six of last year's presentations - BizProLink, Fourbit Group Inc., Jester Digital, Kview Inc., LatPro, Medmundo and OmniCluster - raised about $31 million, she said.
In years past, conference investors have financed communications, retail, medical-health and high-tech e-commerce companies such as dot.coms and Internet-related firms, said Kevin Watson, conference selection committee chairman.
"This year," Mr. Watson said, "we're looking at a much more mature base of companies that have received significant capital rounds in the past. All the companies are looking for rather sizeable rounds." He said about 200 companies applied online in the fall to make presentations at this year's conference. A selection committee - a team of 11 venture capitalists, private equity professionals and other industry experts - narrowed the field.
"We reviewed their business plan, management team, company history and financial profile before we selected them. We have less concepts this year and more real meat businesses - which is really a function of the market and the venture community," he said.
"In the past, about half of the presenters were dot.com companies or Internet-related companies. This year, I'm not sure we have any," Mr. Watson said.
Fort Lauderdale-based Fourbit Group Inc., a software company whose product is in beta testing by a major Fortune 500 company, made a presentation last year to raise about $1.5 million from activity generated by the conference, said Brian Foremny, president.
Fourbit's software allows customers, employees and vendors of large companies to use the company's information wirelessly and from a desktop in ways not available today, he said.
The conference allowed Fourbit to build more contacts, Mr. Foremny said. "We'll have a representative there this year. We have meetings scheduled with folks who are coming down for the conference."
Fourbit is seeking another $20 million in financing, he said. The product is scheduled for general release in May, Mr. Foremny said.
Among the 19 presenting firms this year are Miami-based Medcanica Inc., a medical device company, and Sunol Molecular Corp., a Miramar-based immuno-therapeutics firm developing medicines to treat cardio-vascular disease, cancer and inflammatory diseases, including sepsis.
A blood disease, sepsis, kills more than 200,000 people a year in the US, a figure higher than deaths related to breast or prostrate cancer.
Sunol President and CEO Lee Flowers said the company is returning to the conference after making a presentation several years ago.
"In five rounds of financing, we've raised $32 million. This is our sixth round. We want to raise $30 million. We hope to raise at least part of that at the forum," Mr. Flowers said.
The conference is highly organized, he said, and the coaches have been very helpful. All speakers making a presentation go through a day-long course, organizers said, that includes help with business plans, crafting elevator speeches and negotiating private equity funding.
Mr. Flowers said the company's cardiovascular agent is in "top tier" clinical trials at Brigham and Women's Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard University's medical school.
In addition to investors and presenters, the Florida Venture Capital Conference boasts high-profile sponsors, Ms. Becker said, each contributing financially as well as with volunteer time coaching presenters and acting as mentors.
Sponsors, she said, include Akerman Senterfitt, Bank of America, Deutsche Banc, Alex, Brown, Edwards & Angell, Ernst & Young, Greenberg Traurig and Raymond James & Associates Inc. Other speakers this year include University of Miami School of Medicine Dean John G. Clarkson and University of Florida President Charles Young.
While the conference has been held in Miami since its inception, organizers said the event moves to Orlando in 2003.
Details: (305) 446-5060 or flvencap.org.