Tag: Claire England

CTAN Hires Claire England as New Executive Director

The Central Texas Angel Network, one of the country’s most active angel investing groups, named Claire England as its new executive director.

An Austin native, England, who previously served as director of global expansion for Tech Ranch, has a long history of supporting local startups. She also previously served as executive director of RISE Austin and serves as the Austin Chair for Startup America.

Brent Elyea, the previous director, left last October to join an early-stage venture capital fund. The CTAN board unanimously chose England after an extensive regional search, according to a news release.

“We are very excited to announce this appointment,” Rick Timmins, CTAN board chair said in a news release. “Claire brings a strong background in member development, community relations and nonprofit organization building to CTAN’s programs. She has a deep sense of commitment to Austin’s startup ecosystem and to angel investing. And she has served nonprofits at all program, fundraising, and executive levels, bringing significant perspective to our organization.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to continue supporting Austin’s startup ecosystem through this new role with CTAN,” England said. “Early-stage investment is key to the long-term vitality of our economy, and Austin is very lucky to have one of the top angel networks in the country based right her in our backyard.”

In addition, CTAN announced its first 2015 funding cycle deadline is Friday. Entrepreneurs may apply via the CTAN website.

CTAN members have invested more than $45 million in more than 100 companies since 2006. CTAN is one of the top five angel investing networks in the country.

Q &A with Claire England on Her New Role Promoting Startups at Tech Ranch Austin

Claire England earlier this year at RISE Austin, photo by Laura Lorek.

Claire England earlier this year at RISE Austin, photo by Laura Lorek.

Claire England, former executive director RISE Austin, has joined Tech Ranch Austin.
While England has resigned the full-time executive director role at RISE Austin, she will continue to work with the organization in an advisory role and is leading the planning of next year’s conference.
In her new role at Tech Ranch Austin, England will serve as managing director of global expansion and new initiatives. She will also be working with South by Southwest Interactive on engaging international startups for SXSW Interactive 2014.
In addition, England has also volunteered as the Austin Chair for Startup America, a position formerly held by the late Scott Robinson.
She will also volunteer to join the advisory board for the new Austin Global Shapers Hub, a program of the World Economic Forum. James Bilodeau is the founding curator.
“I’m VERY excited about all of this and looking forward to having an even bigger impact on our entrepreneur ecosystem!,” England wrote in an email announcing her new roles.
Upon hearing the news, Silicon Hills News jotted down a few questions to ask England via email about the Austin entrepreneurial ecosystem which she has had an active role in promoting.

Q. Why did you decide to join Tech Ranch Austin?

A. Every organization experiences growth and internal strengthening; Tech Ranch is poised for significant growth and has been strengthening and expanding its core programs to serve entrepreneurs and startups at every level. Now we are developing strong relationships with startup communities in Asia and South America, resulting in new impact on Austin’s startup community. Founder Kevin Koym created a great vision for the future of entrepreneurial activities at Tech Ranch, and he has complemented his skills by adding Managing Partner Sandeep Kumar earlier this year. Sandeep’s strengths as a serial entrepreneur with a focus on strategy and execution are helping accelerate Tech Ranch, as great co-founders and co-leaders do. I joined Tech Ranch because I see the huge potential for what the organization can help startups accomplish, and I bring another set of skills to the organization that complements the existing leadership.

Q. What are Austin’s greatest strengths when it comes to entrepreneurship?

A. I strongly believe our greatest strength with regards to entrepreneurship is our collaborative community. Further, the focus in Austin is not on valuation but on value. The pressure is a little different here than in more “go-go” markets, which means entrepreneurs have more time to explore ideas and market viability fully. Nevertheless, once a company is formed, speed of plan implementation and customer acceptance remain crucial. Austin and Central Texas offer all the core resources that a new company needs, from talented people to test markets for prototypes, products, services, etc; to affordable work space options; to programs that support their work.

Q. What problems do you see that need to be fixed?

A. Investment needs to be expanded — early and later stage options — both in terms of sheer numbers, but also helping investors become more comfortable investing in a wider variety of markets, so that significant investments aren’t focused on just a few sectors. And this isn’t limited to growing our community’s investment capacity; it’s also important that we position Austin’s startups as attractive for outside investment.
Our startups continue to need top developer talent and opportunities for partnership. The more our business and civic communities can do to support startups, the better it is for Austin as a whole. Startups and small business are driving the new economy, and they need our help.
Conversely, our startups should get involved in helping make Austin great, as much as they can. From helping solve our transportation challenges to initiating creative solutions for our wicked world problems by investing time and energy in social innovation and our nonprofit community, there is plenty to be done.

Q. How is Austin viewed in the global economy?

A. Austin is predominantly defined internationally by music and SXSW (and increasingly Formula 1), which means it’s seen as a creative, talented, and fun city. Of course, Austin consistently ranks high on most national and international top 10 lists, but we cannot rest on our laurels. For Austin to be truly great and to really compete in the global economy, we have to take our business community and our infrastructure to the next level. That will require a great deal of collaboration and hard work, but it will absolutely be worth it.
For example, Tech Ranch already has partnerships in Singapore and in Chile, and SXSW brings in startups from all over the world. Both organizations have the opportunity to create significant impact in Austin through their international relationships, and I’m thrilled to be working in this arena. Austin is also poised to be a technology gateway to Latin America, and startup partnerships are beginning to emerge between the two regions.

Q. Anything else you would like to add or make a point of that we haven’t asked you about?

A. My predecessor with Startup Texas/Startup America, Scott Robinson, had a huge vision for Austin, as big as his heart and his strength of personality. He was a dear friend to me and many in the startup and tech communities and is sorely missed. We have a lot of work to do to carry on his vision. My personal goal in all of my work and volunteer commitments is to help make Austin both the best city and the best entrepreneur ecosystem in the world. We need everyone in our community contributing and collaborating to help make that possible.

VCs and Founders Give Advice on Funding a Startup

Founder of Silicon Hills News

BWJolG9CMAA9hCnFunded companies, which are performing well, get nice offices and free lunches for their employees, said Mike Dodd, partner with Austin Ventures.
Mass Relevance is one of its portfolio companies performing quite well. And on Wednesday, the company hosted a panel discussion about successfully raising capital for a startup company as part of Austin Startup Week.
The two-year-old company has grown from four employees to more than 120 employees and raised $5.5 million in a Series A round of funding and it already has millions in revenue from customers like NBC, MTV Networks and CNN. Its partners include Facebook and Twitter. Mass Relevance, formerly known as TweetRiver, aggregates social media content for its customers.
Claire England, executive director of RISE Austin, moderated the discussion, which paired two successful startup Co-founders with their lead investors. Eric Falcao, founder and Chief Technology Officer of Mass Relevance joined Dodd of Austin Ventures and Josh Kerr, Co-founder and CEO of Written teamed with Krishna Srinivasan, general partner at Live Oak Venture Partners.
Mass Relevance got early traction by landing a six-figure deal with MTV, said Falcao. And then the Co-founders brought on Sam Decker, formerly of BazaarVoice, as its CEO. He had connections with Austin Ventures. Mass Relevance got seed funding easily and raised its first round without a lot of trouble, Falcao said. Mass Relevance also went to California and received funding from Mike Maples Jr.’s Floodgate Partners, an early investor in Twitter.
Kerr bootstrapped his first two companies, but he wanted to build a really big company with Written, which markets bloggers’ content to brands, so he saw the need to get funding from the start. He was able to get a seed round from Live Oak Venture Partners.
“I wanted the structure that comes from raising money and the acceleration that comes with it,” Kerr said.

Signs of a successful startup

Next, England asked the venture capital investors to talk about the signs they look for when evaluating a startup investment, the warning signs of bad investments and top signs of good investments.
“This is such a people business,” said Srinivasan with Live Oak Partners. “I think that is the most important factor. We’re looking for people who have an insight from what they have done before.”
Live Oak Partners also looks for people they can work with and collaborate, Srinivasan said. The ones that don’t work out are entrepreneurs who are not collaborative and those that don’t want to be great partners, he said.
“It’s obviously team, team, team,” Dodd said.
BWJozAFCYAEAKeaBut Mass Relevance had a really great product and they were solving a problem of aggregating real-time Tweets for companies early on, Dodd said.
“What we try to do is look around the corner at the early markets,” Dodd said.
Austin Ventures saw Mass Relevance as being one of the big players in social media for television, Dodd said.

The importance of relationships

Next, England asked how often the companies and funders met and interacted with each other.
Falcao said he sees Dodd once every quarter, but that Dodd met with other executives, like Decker, on a more regular basis.
Dodd said he talked to Decker about once or twice a week. He joked he visited the Mass Relevance office often because they have free lunch for employees. His firm also helped in hiring some of the senior executives and helped to recruit people.
“We can get six head of sales literally almost over night,” he said.
Kerr said Srinivasan gives his seed stage company sage advice.
A good investor helps in team building and scaling the company much more aggressively, Srinivasan said.
England also asked if there was a downside in partnering with investors. The question was met with laughter and then a bit of awkward silence before Falcao answered.
“When things are going well, things are going well,” said Falcao. “VCs are good. They come with checks and advice and more checks. When things work, they work. So far, we haven’t gone through hardship. So it’s tough to point to anything.”
The downside is companies start to rely on them, Kerr said.
“They are bringing this really great value to the business. It’s not just money,” Kerr said. “It’s your buddy. It’s much, much more than that. But you’re not the only company they are invested in and you’re not getting 100 percent of their time. So the only downside is you might want more and not get it.”

What happens when things are not going well? England asked.

imgres-10“I have plenty that are not doing well,” Dodd said. “They don’t have offices like this. They don’t have free lunches. We focus on burn.”
Austin Ventures works to make sure they are focused on maximizing profit and minimizing losses and working to get market share in their industries, Dodd said. The relationship between the investor and the entrepreneur doesn’t change, he said. In a few cases, though, it has, he said.
“I still believe in what they are doing, it’s just taking longer than expected,” Dodd said.
Venture capitalists like to chase trends but it’s good to keep focused on the main business and not get distracted by whacky ideas and the latest trends, Falcao said.
“You need to ask yourself are we just chasing something new?” Falcao said. “You shouldn’t always do exactly what your customers want you to do. There’s something about staying on a mission and staying focused rather than chasing X.”
When a firm makes an investment and things don’t go as planned, the investors work to salvage the value and help hold the ship together to find an acquirer or to get some modest outcome, Srinivasan said.
“Those things take a lot of hard work,” he said.

Making the pitch to investors

BWPJv2yCIAAwxMGEngland then asked the entrepreneurs how they marketed themselves to potential investors.
Kerr said when he pitched his company to Live Oak, Srinivasan sent him three really challenging questions in an e-mail message. He had time to think about the answers, but he couldn’t come up with the answers.
“Ultimately I ended up going back to him and saying these questions are too hard,” Kerr said.
At an early stage, the investment in the company is more about the people than the idea, and it’s better to be honest and admit when you don’t know something, Kerr said.
“If you don’t know the answer, you don’t know the answer,” he said.
Srinivasan said that he liked the honesty that Kerr displayed. He was able to evaluate the risk of investing in them and to gauge how much it would take to get the company to the next level, he said.
Startups should know how to answer basic questions from investors about customer acquisition costs and know how to scale, Falcao said.
“If you haven’t thought about that, you’re not thinking about how hard it is to scale a SMB (Small to Medium-Sized Business) company,” Falcao said.
How much money should startups ask for and how much time should they spend doing it?
The size of a check should be reflective of the stage of the company and issues it is facing, Srinivasan said.
“Just getting out of the gate, you’re going to raise a little bit of money,” Dodd said.
Typically, seed stage companies raise money from angel investors ranging from $350,000 to $1.2 million, Dodd said. A Series A round receives between $2.5 million and $7 million and a Series B round can get up to $20 million, he said.
Kerr said he spends 90 percent of his time raising money. His other partners focus on running the business.

The startup ecosystem in Austin

250px-AustinSkylineLouNeffPoint-2010-03-29-bEngland asked if Austin had a strong enough funding ecosystem to support startups.
Both Kerr and Falcao raised money from California from Floodgate Investments.
“More firms. We need more firms here,” Dodd said.
The ecosystem needs more sophisticated seed stage investors, he said. He said he wished there were three or four more firms like Live Oak to increase competition for funding, he said.
Raising second and third round funding is easy if a company is doing well, he said. But it’s harder to get people in the valley to invest in early stage companies, he said.
Austin needs more firms focused on early stage, Dodd said. More investment firms are good for Austin, he said.
“A rising tide floats all boats,” he said. “The more money that is in town, the better everyone will do.”
In the 30 years he has been in the market, this is the most vibrant and most exciting time, Srinivasan said. The quality of the ideas is really good, he said.
“Clearly this place can have more early stage companies,” he said.
The overall maturing of Austin’s startup ecosystem has contributed to Austin’s vibrant startup community, Srinivasan said. People who have been through the process a few times and transplants from California now populate it, he said.
“It’s a genealogy effect,” Dodd said. Successful companies spin out successful startups, he said.
Austin Ventures has funded three or four startups by people who left BazaarVoice, a company Austin Ventures backed that went public, Dodd said.

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