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In pitch switch, investors try to woo startups

By Laurie Segall, CNNMoney staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- More than 150 tech veterans and aspiring entrepreneurs gathered Wednesday night at AOL's offices to witness an unusual sight: Venture capitalists explaining to startups why founders should pick their fund to work with.

Those with the ideas usually chase those with the money -- not the other way around. But "VC Demo Day" flipped around the roles, asking some of New York's leading investors to make the kind of elevator pitch they're typically on the other end of.

The event was lighthearted, with a keg parked nearby. But the room was filled with venture capital power hitters, including representatives from Greycroft Partners, General Catalyst, SoftBank Capital and a half-dozen other firms.

The rules were as strict as they are at tech pitch-a-thons like TechCrunch Disrupt and Y Combinator's Demo Days: Each VC got exactly 4 minutes, and no more than 5 PowerPoint slides, to make its case.

Both sides were up for the challenge -- a sign of how much New York's tech scene has bounced back from the nuclear winter that followed the dot-com collapse.

"If we did this four or five years ago, I don't know how many of you would be here -- and how many of us would be here," SoftBank Capital partner Jordan Levy told the crowd.

But in a tech market that's starting to look awfully bubbly, venture capitalists have to compete to fund the best deals. Each Demo Day pitcher tried to highlight his firm's unique advantages. (And yep, they were all guys, with the exception of one half of Bessemer Venture Partners' tandem pitching pair.)

Most of their talking points were almost identical. Representatives promised the gathered tech throng that they were "in the business of taking risks," want to "invest in sustainable business," and seek out entrepreneurs they can "back forever."

But the VCs also pulled back the curtain and gave the aspiring entrepreneurs tantalizing glimpses of life on their side of the wall.

"We've had the opportunity to make a number of mistakes," Bessemer Venture Partners said, flashing up a slide of deals it chose to pass on. The list included Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500), FedEx (FDX, Fortune 500), Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) and PayPal.

Flybridge Capital general partner David Aronoff ran a video poking fun at investors, with their "steady stream of endless VC jargon" and habit of offering up "blindingly obvious advice."

Each firm outlined the kinds of investments it seeks, and its turn-offs. "Don't write like my six-year-old niece," Greycroft Partners' rep advised.

Wednesday's gathering was the second installment of VC Demo Day, following a debut run in July. The idea hit organizers Mike Brown, of AOL Ventures, and Andy Weissman, from Betaworks, after they'd sat through a deluge of investor pitches at demo days organized by TechStars and Y Combinator.

"We were sitting there and said 'wouldn't it be funny if VCs had to get up and pitch?'" Brown said.

But the switcheroo was fleeting. Once the VC demos wrapped, a swarm of attendees descended on the presenters, eager to make their own quick elevator pitches about their fledgling ventures.

And thus the natural order of the tech universe was restored.  To top of page

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