The seeds of any idea often times come out of frustration, or even disaster.
November 24, 2014
Orate: A $400K Speaker Deal
The fourth of five profiles of the most recent graduates of The Startup Factory accelerator in Durham.
Sara Capra (top right) was planning an event at South By Southwest for her employer, the United Nations Foundation, when speakers canceled at the last minute. She realized there was nowhere to go to quickly find a replacement.
At the same time, aspiring speakers (like herself) trying to build their brands didn’t have a place to get discovered.
She discussed the idea of a marketplace for speakers and organizers with a former coworker in a DC management consulting firm, Veronica Eklund, and they entered and won Startup Weekend DC in April 2014 with the idea that became Orate. With office space and development help from $25K in winnings, they quit their jobs and set to work.
The two women graduated from The Startup Factory accelerator program two weeks ago with $400,000 in seed capital raised and a prototype in testing with 100 speakers in technology and healthcare, and 20 event organizers.
The problem they are solving is for those organizers, who typically mine their own networks for speakers for events, or use a high-dollar speakers bureau. Orate makes it easy to search for new talent based on topic, location and budget, and then watch videos of that person to make a decision. Ratings and reviews will also help organizers better vet speakers.
The market is bigger than you might think for the service Orate provides. The number of people speaking at events across the U.S. has surpassed four million, and the budget for those speakers is more than $13 billion.
That large niche attracted The Startup Factory’s Chris Heivly, a frequent public speaker who is trying to build his brand and that of the Startup Factory nationally. He met the women after serving on a panel in DC. They followed up with a 30-minute Google Hangout, and he invited them to apply to the accelerator.
It wasn’t a hard sell, Eklund and Capra told me when they started the program in August. They’d seen and been impressed by Heivly’s interviews in the Startupland documentary, produced by their investor Jonathon Perrelli.
“We heard this place was really collaborative and hands on and not focused on just churning out and raising money,” Eklund said at the time.
The women do have a challenge ahead, Heivly says. A double-sided market is traditionally one of the hardest businesses to build from scratch.
“Your challenge is doubled,” he says. “You have to get a minimum amount to scale on both sides for either one to be happy that there is a marketplace.”
He’s confident they have a large enough group to test out the platform, and to guide product development, so they can build 3-5 features at start versus 50 on the radar today. The Orate women have agreed to stay around at The Startup Factory this winter to continue to figure it out.
$400K from Perrelli and Denver investor Steve Bell should help too. Orate is one of few Startup Factory grads to walk away with that large a sum after just three months of accelerator.