Fall VC Conference Bids Adieu to Sun Valley

KETCHUM, Idaho -- The inaugural Venture Capital in the Rockies Fall Conference concluded Thursday after spending all of Wednesday observing company presentations and corporate speakers.

Many attendees used Thursday as a chance to unwind and take advantage of the golfing, mountain biking and guided flyfishing opportunities available here in this mountain resort town.

Wednesday, however, was all business as 13 technology-oriented startups from the Rockies region delivered presentations and fielded questions from venture capitalists.

The day also included deliveries from corporate dignitaries with Yahoo!, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon and PERSI, the state of Idaho's public employee retirement fund. Wade Davis, a cultural anthropologist and National Geographic documentarian, provided the keynote address.

"I thought the whole day was great," said Seth Levine, managing director and founding partner with the Foundry Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based venture capital firm focused on early stage information technology companies. "There was a nice mix of company and corporate presentations. There was a ton of content. If anything, it was almost too content rich. It was a lot to digest in one day."

Though Levine declined to specify the companies that piqued his interest, he did praise the diversity of those in attendance.

"I thought there was really a broad mix of companies from throughout the region," he said. "We heard from one company that can manufacture a nuclear power generator to another that specializes in integration software."

Other investors were on hand to observe their portfolio companies' presentations and to vet potential prospects.

Paul Ahlstrom, managing director and co-founder of Salt Lake City, Utah-based vSpring Capital, said his firm was pleased to have four of its portfolio companies--Alianza, AlphaBay, Celio and XAware--selected as presenters. In addition to complimenting their demonstrations, he lauded Balihoo, a media planning software publisher out of Boise, Idaho.

"I felt like those [Balihoo] guys nailed [their pitch] for a couple of reasons," Ahlstrom explained. "They've hit the market pretty hard and, in the first couple of quarters, they've shown significant market penetration. That's one of the plays we haven't invested in that we would take a serious look at."

Ahlstrom also singled out WildCharge, a Boulder-based manufacturer of wireless electronic device chargers. He praised the company's concept but also expressed concern that such an investment could represent a "high-risk consumer play."

"We split our deals between the better-faster-cheaper types and the change-the-world, swing-for-the-fences, brave-new-world ideas. But when you do a brave-new-world play by yourself, you're out there for a long time validating that thing before the market rewards you," he said.

Wink Jones, a managing partner with Boulder's Lacuna Gap Capital, said he didn't get too excited over any of the presenters--most of which were seeking follow-up institutional funding--because his firm specializes in "gap" investments that occur between the angel and institutional stages.

"Most of them are probably a little bit out of our sweet spot as far as being larger investments and higher valuations than what we typically look at," he said, noting that two of the presenters, Mocapay and Balihoo, already are Lacuna portfolio companies.

The Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association, a consortium of venture capital firms and investment professionals from an eight-state region, hosted the event. This is the first year that the association has put on a fall conference--it has staged a winter meeting in Beaver Creek, Colo., for decades.

In his closing comments to attendees, conference chairman Mark Solon announced that next year's fall event would be held in Park City, a mountain resort town some 30 miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah. Park City annually hosts the Sundance Film Festival. It was also the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics.