IVCA Q&A: Update on Excelerate Labs Demo Day from CEO Troy Henikoff

IVCA Q&A: Update on Excelerate Labs Demo Day from CEO Troy Henikoff

August 31, 2011

CHICAGO - “ Early last month, Troy Henikoff - “ the CEO of Excelerate Labs - “ spoke here about the kick-off of the program, and the expectations of the start-ups and companies from Excelerate's second year. Wednesday, August 31st is the culmination of all that hard work in the 13 week mentorship, for it is Demo Day.

Demo Day is a gathering of potential investors, with expectations that over 250 represented individuals and funds will be present, at the House of Blues Chicago. The ten companies who have gone through the Excelerate Labs program will then - œdemo-  their potential to the investors present. It is a sold-out event, as Troy Henikoff said, - œstanding room only.- 

Henikoff, the Co-Founder and current CEO of Excelerate Labs, is a passionate force behind the program that celebrates local innovation. Henikoff is also a serial entrepreneur, including having founded SurePayroll. The IVCA asked him to update the association regarding Demo Day.

IVCA: Given what has happened the second year of the Excelerate Labs Program in the last 13 weeks, what kind of atmosphere can we expect for Demo Day?

Troy Henikoff: It will be similar to last year with energy and electricity in the room and it's going to be packed, it's literally standing room only, because there are so many investors who want to be a part of Demo Day.

IVCA: You had a completely successful Demo Day last year. What elements of the day are you altering based on what you learned from the first one?

Henikoff: The presentations will be the same format, ten minutes each with five presentations before lunch and five after lunch. Our after-party networking event is immediately following the House of Blues event, at 4:30p and it's only a block away. So logistically it will be better, we have a better lunch and most of the changes are related to internal operations, like people and seating. Last year we had thin tables between the chairs so there was a place to write on the investor floor, this year we don't have room for that. I was pleased how last year came off, it set the bar high.  If this year is as successful as last year I think we've done a great job.

IVCA: What causes the most nervous anticipation in the presenter companies regarding Demo Day, and how do you coach presenters as they work through the demonstration techniques?

Henikoff: I don't think most of the teams realize how many times they have had to practice and how much time they have to put into it. They will be presenting to 250 or more investors in one shot, with confidence I can say it's the only time in their life they will get to present to 250 investors.

It takes time to really be concise and clear. When I tell them at the end of July that they have to run through their pitch a minimum of a 100 times before they get on stage, they think I'm kidding. If they've done it three times, they have 97 more run-throughs to do. I'm trying to be really specific with them, I literally encourage them to count the number of times they've practiced so that can appreciate how much practice it takes and how many refinements the pitch will go through. To do a really good pitch is hard. If they do it well, it looks easy up there, but it's hard to make it look and feel natural, it's hard to distill it down to ten minutes. It was Mark Twain who said, 'I would have written you a shorter letter if I had more time.'

IVCA: What has come out of the practice sessions?

Henikoff: One the teams two days ago said, 'this is it, I've got my final pitch.' They ran through it, and I rated them a 2 out of 10. It was a fine pitch, a normal pitch, but it wasn't a 'stand up in front of 250 people at the House of Blues'-type pitch for Demo Day. So it's back to the drawing board, throw out the story and rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it.

IVCA: Since you are coming to the end of year two with Excelerate, what were your personal highlights during the 13 week program?

Henikoff: The summer has been a blur, so busy and crazy. I'm anticipating Demo Day will be the highlight, it was last year. There is a ton of hard work that goes into it and these last couple of weeks have been really crazy. I just got a text from one of the teams that he isn't going to make it in until 9:30, because he had been at the office last night until 1am. That's the norm.

I think that Demo Day is an exciting time, but it isn't over then. Afterward there is the hard work of fund-raising, term sheets and negotiating. The highlights are seeing the companies evolve, and watching them launch, get traction and employ people. To me, the progress is the highlight.

IVCA: Did all the fixes you put in from what you learned last year allow for the Excelerate program to run more smoothly?

Henikoff: We certainly did some things better, we had more help and more mentors. There are still many things we can improve upon, it's very difficult to squeeze it all into 13 weeks. There is so much we want to do with the participating companies, it will be interesting in the second week of September to sit down with the Excelerate team and discuss what we learned and what we can do better.

IVCA: Finally, what is the timetable for Excelerate Labs 2012, and what crucial deadline should potential applicants be aware of?

Henikoff: We haven't announced it, but the last two years the deadline for applications has been in the middle of March, and there is no reason to believe it will be different, but it might be.

For continued updates, about Demo Day and Excelerate Labs 2012, click here.