Demo Day: Gazelle Lab At USFSP Tests StartUps

For entrepreneurs, "DEMO'' is the weight-lifting equivalent of "put up or shut up'' -- the moment when you either lift the weight off your chest to the roar of captivated onlookers, or you fail to deliver as the bar crashes back to your chest.

It’s the moment when you’ve got no preparatory moments left, and for the founders of six startup companies from Tampa Bay, that moment will take place on Thursday, Nov. 17, during Gazelle Lab's DEMO Day -- one of five statewide events honoring the Startup Florida initiative as well as Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The founders will hear their company name introduced to a crowd of more than 500 investors, business leaders, mentors and entrepreneurial peers, who have traveled from near and far to evaluate their dreams, technologies and business models, in an effort to determine whether they want in on a taste of the action.

Gazelle Lab has already made an initial "seed stage'' investment in each of the companies, and the goal of DEMO Day is to showcase the progress they've made in the last 90 days by providing an opportunity for the companies to sell themselves -- 8 minutes at a time -- to qualified investors, the men and women capable of financing their journey into it's next phase: "growth-stage.''

The drama and entertainment value are going to be through the roof. It’s unlikely every company will be a homerun; babies will be called ugly.

Adding Context, Perspective

Gazelle Lab is an affiliate member of the Tech Stars network. Founded in 2006 in Boulder, CO, Tech Stars exists to serve startups with seed capital, mentorship and an opportunity to DEMO. Gazelle Lab does the exact same thing, right here, in Tampa Bay.

Tech Stars in Tampa Bay is the result of five entrepreneurial co-founders, one big idea, and a whole lot of hard work.

Two of the five co-founders are responsible for building the undergraduate major in entrepreneurship at the USF St. Petersburg College of Business, also known as the Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Innovation Alliance: William Jackson and Daniel James Scott.

According to Jackson, the importance of experiential education in an entrepreneurship curriculum mustn't be overlooked: "Not only are we accelerating entrepreneurial firms in Tampa Bay with Gazelle Lab, but we’re also helping students transition into the regional venture talent pipeline by supporting their educational experience in a way that allows students to earn course credit for providing business support and conducting research with the Gazelles.''

To taste the entrepreneurial process is the only way, it's not learnable via textbook.

Beyond his academic responsibilities at USFSP, Scott also serves as Gazelle Lab magician -- responsible for spotting/manufacturing opportunities for win-wins and for simply making things move forward. In his words: "Demo Day represents the culmination of three months of effort by the companies, their mentors and our team.  We could not be more proud of the success we've seen and the continued success we expect from these incredible startups."

Rock star Technologist Marvin Scaff is another Gazelle Lab co-founder. Scaff wears many hats, however, he is primarily responsible for advising the Gazelle companies on their technology and also for raising capital for the seed-stage investment fund that gets all of the companies rolling (God bless his heart and his connections!).

Next, Brent Britton. Britton leans on his extensive experience working with startups on both coasts (U.S.) to provide intellectual property counsel -- a critical component of the mix, given that a legal understanding of the issues that startups face are something that few -- if any -- possess internally.

Lastly, a man pegged by USFSP to serve as "entrepreneur-in-residence'': John Morrow. Morrow serves as venture-guide to student teams at USFSP and also to the participating Gazelle Lab companies. He provides expert-level guidance on entrepreneurial issues such as technology needs, product/market fit, business strategy and scaling high-growth ventures. It's second nature to him because he’s done it. More than once. Right here in Tampa Bay.

John also serves as lead mentor-wrangler, responsible for engaging and managing the diverse pool of community mentors who have stepped up to offer their experiences and contacts to help the Gazelle Lab companies succeed. A man of gentle kindness and potent intellect, he often can be found at Kahwa Coffee Roasting in St. Petersburg, doling out strategy advice while investigating financial statements, sipping java and plugging an occasional query into Wolfram Alpha.

Without these co-founders, the program would not exist. Without the aforementioned mentor network, the program would not succeed.

The mentor network consists of dozens of business thinkers and doers with diverse backgrounds who are putting in their time and energy to nurture the entrepreneurial community in Tampa Bay.

Students get in on the action, too!

On your sharks, get set, DEMO!

OK, let me explain.

"Sharks'' -- because Kevin Harrington, DEMO Day investor/judge, is the Alpha Shark on the hit ABC show, Shark Tank.

"Get set'' -- this is more of a standing call to action for the student entrepreneurs who have been developing and refining their business concept pitches during the fall semester.

"DEMO'' -- this may be a bit of stretch given that the student pitches are at more of a conceptual level, however, the DEMO-style drama is baked-in as a result of the format: a two-minute pitch followed by eight grueling minutes of on-the-spot, shark-driven Q&A.

This should serve to remind the audience that investors are putting money down on the founding team -- the people -- just as much as they are investing in technology services and products. This makes sense because, at the end of the day, the investors must be comfortable with the founding team; they must truly believe in the founders' ability to execute on their ever-evolving business plan for the purposes of producing a significant return on their investment dollars.

The evaluation panel also includes Gerald Hogan and Tom Wallace -- seasoned company builders, investors and evaluators of entrepreneurial talent. They are fit to judge it because they see it every day they look in the mirror.

The students will leave with an incredible experience under their belt, and perhaps a check for $6K in their pocket -- not bad for a student gig! 

The Big Picture

Who knows, perhaps the progeny of Google, Facebook or even Wufoo may be born right here in the other Bay area?

That would be great, fantastic, unqualifiedly magnificent! Perhaps. However, in some ways, it would be short-term thinking.

This isn’t about one company hitting it big; this is about entrepreneurial capacity building. And programs such as Gazelle Lab are contributing to a region playing catch-up.

Tampa Bay is making progress. Mayors on both sides of the bay have proclaimed November as Entrepreneurship Month, and small groups of brilliant, hard working, pavement pounding and code-slinging men and women are diving heart-first into an entrepreneurial lifestyle.

At the end of the day, this is entrepreneurial ecosystem building at its finest. Buckle up; this one's going to be good!

Event Details And Registration Link:

November 17, 2011
9:00am:  Doors open
9:30am:  Company pitches
11:45am:  Lunch at the Dali ($20 for lunch and museum entry)
1:30pm:  Student pitches
3:00pm:  Afternoon with the Dali
5:00pm:  83 Degrees Media’s "Not Your Average Speakers'' event: "Champions For Change'' at the Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

The Gazelle Companies:



Leads Direct

Red Hawk Interactive


Nathan Schwagler is a freelance journalist, creativity researcher and visiting instructor of entrepreneurship at USF St. Petersburg who will buy you a cup of coffee or a delicious pint if you promise to tell him something interesting -- on the record. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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