Venture capital forum helps entrepreneurs find money

— Area entrepreneurs, investors and others met Thursday night to learn more about funding opportunities and possibly find a little investment capital of their own.

About 150 people attended the Florida Venture Forum event, which was held at the Naples Grande Resort and Club. The non-profit forum helps engage emerging companies with sources of capital, and has about 350 members.

Robin Kovaleski, executive director of the Florida Venture Forum, said certain “hot sectors” are ripe to receive funding, despite the economic downturn. Those areas include telecommunications, nanotechnology and life and bioscience.

Regardless of the recession, it’s important to look to the future, Kovaleski noted.

“It’s always an important thing for all entrepreneurs to continue to network and build relationships so as things begin to move they have the tools in place,” she said. “And good companies will always prevail.”

The event included a panel discussion about funding options. On the panel were John H. Hill, Jr., the senior managing director of Hyde Park Capital Partners, Inc.; Travis J. Milks, vice-president of Stonehenge Growth Capital; and Charles J. Tipton, president and chief operating officer of Bank of Florida, Southwest.

Tipton counseled the attendees to select a bank that has experience in the area of their company, and one that is able to properly advise them.

Also, entrepreneurs should ask themselves: “Can this team, does this team, does this bank have the ability to grow with you?” he said.

Moderator Colleen Kvetko, director of Florida Shores Bank, posed what she knew would be a difficult question to venture capitalist Milks about the current climate of venture investment.

“And be nice,” she said encouragingly.

Milks revealed that venture investment is down. Nationally in 2009, $7 billion has been invested to date. It’s expected the year will close with $11 to $14 billion total venture investments, he said. That’s an investment level similar to 1996.

But, “innovation doesn’t stop,” Milks added. “We still see fabulous opportunities.”

Event attendee Chade Life is hoping he might be counted as one of those. Life is the founder of Leather Medic, which repairs and reconditions leather, primarily furniture and automotive. Life operates franchises in 17 states.

Leather Medic recently worked with 3M to develop a new leather protection product, and Life wants to investigate ways to pay for a launch of the product. The forum event made him feel that was “very possible,” he said.

“It’s a good, positive group of people,” Life said.

Attendee Jeff Rhodes, a regional sales consultant for TriNet, Inc., also attended the forum. TriNet is a human resources outsourcing firm based in California; Rhodes works in Bonita Springs and came to the meeting because one of his clients includes a start-up technology company that’s seeking funding.

“It’s a phenomenal group of people that gain trusted advisor level with business owners,” he said of the venture forum organization.

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