Venture Madness: March Madness-Like Competition For Startup Companies Starts Wednesday
Venture Madness is just like March Madness, except replace college basketball teams with the most promising startup companies in the state.
For the past four weeks 64 young companies have been narrowed down to the top 16. Starting tomorrow at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, they will face off in a bracket-style competition until only one is left standing.
One year ago Gilbert-based financial aid software startup CampusLogic had about 15 employees, a few customers and a little bit of revenue, according to founder Gregg Scoresby.
Then, the company won Venture Madness.
Now, one year later, they have 40 employees and recently closed a multi-billion dollar deal.
“Venture Madness was a very key part, a very key catalyst for us in both attracting talent and attracting capital,” Scoresby said.
CampusLogic took home $30,000 in prize money, but Scoresby said the real value in their win was the exposure and advice that came with it.
“We had people come up right after we won Venture Madness and say 'I want to invest, and I want to be part of CampusLogic,'” he said.
The competition starts with a bracket of 64 startup companies that go through two rounds of online eliminations. The top 16 teams advance to the live rounds. Those are happening March 2-4 at Talking Stick Resort. There, the teams will face off, pitching their idea to a panel of judges, trying to convince them that that idea is destined to take off.
Invest Southwest and the Arizona Commerce Authority launched Venture Madness two years ago because of the explosion of startups in the Valley, according to longtime software executive and Venture Madness judge Greg Head.
“I’ve been in the Valley 20 years, and I’ve never seen this level of activity, and it’s very exciting,” he said.
According to Head, events like this are not only good for startups looking for funding, they’re also good for Arizona’s economy.
“Some of our biggest employers here in the Valley were started here in the Valley as little startups and small businesses that grew up,” he said. “It’s not just about attracting big companies to the Valley, it’s about growing our own. And that’s harder than it looks, but that’s where the big part of growth comes from.”
Scoresby said the startup community in the Valley is growing and is the most generous one out there.
“This is a super accessible startup community, unlike other communities,” he said. “You want to talk to any CEO in town, you can pretty much talk to any CEO.”
It’s that spirit of generosity that drives Venture Madness, he said. Each team is assigned a mentor to help them refine their pitch for each stage of the competition.
“In the first meeting, my team of mentors said ‘I don’t really get it. I don’t get what you’re talking about, I don’t get the problem,’” he said. “So one thing they really did was help me simplify the message.”
Scoresby said he worked to make his pitch focus on one thing: the problem that CampusLogic would solve.
“If you have a problem that’s worth solving and people are willing to pay you to solve that problem, your company is going to be successful,” he said.
The problem he proposed to solve in front of last year’s judges was a big one.
“We’ve got 1.3 trillion dollar's worth of student debt in this country,” he said. “We have fewer young people starting businesses, forming households, buying houses, because of this student debt burden hanging around their neck. So we need people to borrow more responsibly, but we also need to drive accessibility for those that need aid the most.”