A lucky 13 startups got a “golden ticket” on Thursday to pitch their businesses to the president of Dell and other top Dell executives.
“I’m super excited about being here and having this opportunity,” said Tonia Thompson, co-founder of Springcreek Systems, which makes software that eliminates duplications in customer relationship management systems.
Thompson worked for Dell until last summer when she left to start her own company. She participated in its first Tech Innovators Day headed up by Ingrid Vanderveldt, Dell’s entrepreneur in residence. Vanderveldt also heads up the Dell Center for Entrepreneurship, launched last December. The Tech Innovators Day brought a variety of startups to Dell’s headquarters in Round Rock to help them make connections, she said.
“First of all, as an entrepreneur, when you’re building a company everyone dreams of how do they do business with a Dell. How do they get in the door?” Vanderveldt said. “We’ve completely opened up the doors.”
Dell’s President Steve Felice wanted to talk to the people building companies with the next big ideas, Vanderveldt said. He attended the afternoon pitch session. He never left the room or took a phone call despite all the news happening with Dell right now with rumors of a potential leveraged buyout underway. He gave the startups his full attention.
“As we become more of a solutions company we’re going to add more companies,” Felice said. Dell is also seeking to promote a culture of innovation and creativity, he said. Felice spoke briefly to the group before the entrepreneurs each gave five-minute pitches to him and other high-level executives at Dell followed by a question and answer session.
Dell has made more than $10 billion worth of acquisitions in the last four years to re-make the company beyond its origins as a PC maker and to build a broader portfolio of products and services. But Dell has startups at its heart. The often-repeated story about how Michael Dell founded the computer company in 1984 in his dorm room at the University of Texas and then built it into a Fortune 500 Company is legendary in Austin.
The startups, from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Chicago, hope to do that some day too. Many were recommended by tech accelerators and co-working spaces including 1871, Capital Factory, ATI and Tech Ranch or Dell’s Small Business Think Tank events.
“They come from a variety of different industries but they’re all focused on how can they use technology as a path to success,” Vanderveldt said.
The startups asked Dell executives for contracts, mentorship, advice, investments and more.
Stacy Yamaoka, co-founder of Austin-based Deohako, which makes tablet mounting systems, recently returned from presenting her products at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. She also previously participated in a Dell Think Tank event aimed at small businesses in Austin.
Yamaoka asked for a $250,000 contract from Dell to supply Deohako’s mounting system for Dell’s tablet computers.
Timothy Porter, founder of Appddiction Studio in San Antonio, makes an app to prevent bullying in schools. He asked for a $350,000 investment to hire more sales staff and take the app, which is in 65 schools, nationwide.
Susan Strausberg, co-founder of 9WSearch, a financial search engine, is also seeking investment and strategic partners. Strausberg formerly founded Edgar Online. She moved to Austin and launched 9WSearch to create an intelligent search engine for financial data.
Erine Gray, co-founder of Aunt Bertha, pitched his website search engine for finding and applying for human services such as food, housing, healthcare, education and jobs. He got inspired to create the company after he became his disabled mother’s guardian at the age of 26. He had to find services and help for her and he didn’t know where to go. Founded in September of 2010, Aunt Bertha has four full time employees, an intern and two contractors. More than 23,000 people have searched for services using Aunt Bertha.
Aunt Bertha is a software as a service company that sells application processing software, but it’s evolving into a data and intelligence company, Gray said.
“This is just a great chance to work for a great Austin company and build a valuable service,” Gray said. “I jumped at the chance to come. I’m fortunate to have been selected.”
Ed Bellis, CEO of Risk I/O, based in Chicago, pitched his vulnerability assessment and management software. His company, founded in 2010, has raised $6 million and has more than 2,000 customers. It has also processed 10.2 million vulnerabilities. He asked to partner with Dell.
Shion Deysarkar, CEO of Houston-based Datafiniti, a search engine for data, has 330 customers with $1.1 million in revenue. Deysarkar asked Dell for access to its Project Copper server technology and startup pricing on its products.
This is the first time Dell’s held this kind of event, Vanderveldt said. Dell is seeking to identify the next companies for mergers and acquisitions, she said. In the feedback from the executives, Dell will consider what the next steps will be, she said. There are no guarantees any buyouts or investments will happen.
“It’s an experiment,” she said. “Anything can happen from today.”
Dell plans to hold many more Tech Innovators Days and will publish information on the next ones on its website, Vanderveldt said.
“We’re looking for who is pitching a fascinating idea,” Vanderveldt said.
Under the Dell Center for Entrepreneurship, the company has programs for entrepreneurs at all different stages from early-stage bootstrappers to funded companies, Vanderveldt said. Last summer, Dell launched the Founder’s Club, an invitation-only program for companies with funding and now has 50 companies enrolled and a waiting list to get in. Dell also has the $100 million Dell Innovator Credit Fund, which invests in startups.
Grapevine, founded by Richard Ortega and Eric Larson in San Antonio, asked for a chance to partner with Dell. The company makes a reputation management software system. It aggregates customer reviews from several different sites online and then sends an email alert to the company. Larson thought the day spent at Dell was well worth it.
“We got assurance we will be given a phone number to call,” said Larson. “At the very minimum, we’ll get feedback on our product. All in all, this has been a great experience.”
The startups weren’t the only ones who got value from the event.
On Friday morning, Dell’s President Felice tweeted “Dell’s Tech Innovators Day reminds me that it’s important to stay thirsty, innovative and entrepreneurial.”