Honored and humbled.
Those are the first two words out of Windsor Circle CEO Matt Williamson’s mouth when I asked his feelings about winning the first-ever Google For Entrepreneurs Demo Day and receiving a $100,000 investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case.
In the minutes to follow the inaugural event at Google’s Mountain View campus—where Williamson and Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen pitched against eight other startups from seven secondary startup markets around the nation—he’d spoken with at least a dozen investors. Some compared the quality of his pitch to those at Y Combinator or TechStars Demo Days, gold standard type events for startups. (Read social media reactions of the win here.)
“When you hear the words “Investment Committee” in initial conversations, that’s a good sign,” he told me.
Becoming a Google Tech Hub was considered a major win for the region when it was announced nearly six months ago. It’d give American Underground and the Triangle a direct link to one of the most influential Internet companies in the world, and PR cred as it beat out dozens of other entrepreneurial communities. But few understood the true significance of the designation until the Demo Day was announced.
In response to the seven hubs’ need for outside capital in their regions, Google For Entrepreneurs agreed to gather its investor friends for an event at its Google Ventures offices. At least one company from each region would have the opportunity to pitch them, and hopefully, to secure investment.
More than 30 investors showed up Wednesday, including Dave McClure of 500 Startups, Dave Munichiello of Google Ventures and representatives of Andreessen Horowitz, Revolution Ventures, First Round Capital and TechStars. In Case’s opening remarks, he said his firm Revolution Ventures invested 80 percent of its capital in non-Valley companies. His $100,000 commitment to each of the 10 pitching startups helped to prove that point.
McClure said he was impressed by both Triangle companies—Windsor Circle for its impressive customer list and Automated Insights for an entertaining video that kicked off the pitch. His true allegiances were to Waterloo’s Mojio and Denver’s GoSpotCheck, pitching companies in which he’d already made investments.
Will he make a visit to the Triangle soon? To me, he said 500 Startups was focused in major markets nationally and internationally. About 25 percent of its portfolio are companies outside of the U.S.
But to the Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Dhruv Patel, he said “Call me.”
Silicon Valley investor Val Jerdes of Pulsar Ventures told me he was looking for early-stage big data startups, and though Windsor Circle and Automated Inisghts might be too far along for him, he was eager to visit the Triangle to see what else is being built in town.
“This is amazing vetting for us,” he said. “This (Tech Hub Network) could become a venue not just to push out companies to the Valley but to pull some of us in.”
John Cambier of Idea Fund Partners was among the Triangle contingency supporting the two teams. He was especially happy after the event—his firm is an investor in both Durham companies. Any outside investment will only help his.
“It’s great to see we could come and hold our own with folks around the country,” Cambier said. “We’re not the best of North Carolina. We’re competitive with wherever.”
The true impact of the inaugural event will likely be felt in the days and weeks to follow, as the teams connect with interested investors and begin to tout their visit to the Valley.
But the Triangle is riding a special high. PR is one of its biggest challenges and opportunities, several on the trip told me.
“It’s an underserved area for all the activity going on,” said CED’s Patel. “When Steve Case puts $100,000 in a company, I don’t know what’s a bigger platform for the Triangle.”
As for Windsor Circle, Williamson hopes to soon add Silicon Valley investors to the latest round. It already includes a major software company, he told the crowd.
And another exciting validation besides the product, the business model and the customers, are the team’s mandatory grass green pants. Originally planned as a marketing ploy, perhaps now they’ll symbolize another form of green. The cash kind.