Charlotte Venture Challenge March Madness

April 25, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Venturprise_Vibe_Photo.jpgWhat could bring 36 emerging entrepreneurs and 50 savvy reviewers to the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis in mid-March? The Charlotte Venture Challenge semi-finals event.

For many of the entrepreneurs, it was their first pitch to a large group. The opulent marble lobby where they waited might have led to daydreams of future grandeur for their startup business. Or, more likely, they silently rehearsed their 8-minute pitches.

Each entrepreneurial team had its chance to demonstrate their worthiness to our expert reviewers. The reviewers responded with direct questions probing the team’s readiness and the quality of the opportunity. Then, the pressure shifted from the presenter to the reviewer as key factors were rated and comments noted.

By 5:00, Venture Challenge organizers collected over 1000 rating forms assessing multiple aspects of each venture’s pitch. Within a few days, this collective wisdom would lead to the selection of this year’s finalists who will compete on May 1 for recognition and $75,000 of cash prizes.

If this sounds like hard work for the reviewers, it is. Yet, every year, we have calls from the best in Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community asking to be included. This intense, tiring day is an exhilarating experience as we glimpse the creative, passionate energy of the most promising ventures from five states.

The day is designed to select the competition’s finalists, but much more happens. Every one of the entrepreneurs receives written feedback from the reviewers. For some, there will be a nugget of wisdom that helps re-define their market or business model. Following each category of presenters, the entrepreneurs are invited to return to the presentation room to mingle with the reviewers. For many, this will begin a mentor relationship that will strengthen their venture development.

As the room clears out in the early evening, the Charlotte Venture Challenge organizers (thank you Clare Cook Faggart and Devin Collins!) leave with the collective reviewer wisdom captured on two reams of paper. Tomorrow, tabulation will begin leading to the selection of winners who will compete again on May 1. Tonight, we like to think that every entrepreneur left a winner with a new connection or a useful insight. And, we know that every reviewer left inspired by the impressive, innovative talent that will build the great businesses of the future.

- Paul Wetenhall

About Paul

Paul Wetenhall joined the Ben Craig Center May 2008.  Paul led the transformation of the Center into Ventureprise, the region’s conduit to entrepreneurial development. 

Paul comes to The Ben Craig Center from High Tech Rochester, Inc. (HTR) in Rochester, New York where he served as President and Director. Paul started with HTR in 1997 where he launched and managed the Lennox Tech Enterprise Center incubator. As HTR's venture coach, he worked with over 100 start-up and early stage companies. He began his service as HTR's President in January 2004 and was responsible for all aspects of the organization's work, supporting innovators, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers in the nine-county Finger Lakes region. He worked closely with HTR's Board of Directors and with academic, economic development, government and private sector partners.Paul was an adjunct lecturer in entrepreneurship at the University of Rochester's Wiliam E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration and a regular guest speaker at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has been director of Odyssey Software, Inc. and a director of a statewide economic development initiative, New Jobs for New York.

Prior to joining HTR, Paul founded and was president of QSoft Solutions Corp., a business software company formed in 1993. In 1985, Paul co-founded Microlytics, Inc., a Xerox-funded software company formed to commercialize technology from Xerox' Palo Alto Research Center. As Chief Operating Officer and a Director, he managed rapid growth, mergers, Hong Kong manufacturing, and public company issues. Previously, he held a variety of management positions in pricing, marketing, and operations during 13 years at Xerox Corporation.

Paul is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology with a Bachelor degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering with Honor and earned a Master in Business Administration degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Paul is not all work and no play.  When not mentoring entrepreneurs or speaking to city council, he is traveling to adventurous places; most recently Egypt, Jordan, China, Poland and the Ukraine.  He can also be found relaxing with his favorite Jazz station or attending a regional theater or dance performance with his wife.

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