Monday, May 12, 2014

CED VMS Connects Ventures to a Network of Networks

Written by Ann Revell-Pechar as part of CED's Venture Mentoring Service: Stories from the Front Lines Series.

Katina Dorton is a senior investment banker who is very closely connected to the Triangle’s entrepreneurial community. It’s no wonder, then, that when CED VMS first started, Katina was one of the first mentors to step up and volunteer her time.

“I was recruited to CED’s VMS at the very beginning of the program,” said Dorton. “They thought that, given my interest in early stage companies, I would fit right in to their mission. Of course, they knew the Ventures would be interested in working with an investment banker who understands the marketplace and could provide them with guidance on fundraising strategies and preparation for investor meetings.”

The first venture/mentor match was classic. CED had worked through selected applications and presented them to the coaches during the mentor meeting, and the one that jumped out to Dorton was in healthcare IT, a company that provided patients with an online tool to identify the best prices for prescription medications.

“I was intrigued by this startup because the founder understood the need to provide patients with better information to make informed drug decisions” she said. “The entrepreneur’s objective was right up my alley, since I have a strong interest in healthcare. It became clear during our first few meetings, which were spent trying to figure out the most effective strategies for monetizing the product and for funding his company, that I could really add value there.”

Dorton has worked with many companies at this stage. Funding and finance are always a critical component of the conversation. If they are ready to start selling product, the discussions may diverge into perspectives surrounding how to go about marketing and selling the product -- and when they should start. But it all comes back to finance.

According to Dorton, “Everyone seems to need to know how and when to look for investment. As CED VMS mentors we can work with startups to make sure they know how to find the right funding sources, when to take that money, and how to negotiate the deal.”
But it’s not always about the money. The one thing that may be more important than the money is relationships.

One venture she mentored was developing a medical device. The mentor team followed the company through various phases of product development. As the right time surfaced, she found a way to introduce the founders to other companies that might be interested in working with them. She also made an introduction to an experienced industry executive who took on a meaningful role in assisting the entrepreneur to present his product to major industry players.

"It’s great to help startups get in front of companies that are important to their success,” she said. “Mentors bring connections across multiple industries. Our team was able to introduce him to several that use his type of product. It’s helped him identify his value to have this set of introductions across a spectrum, and to hone his marketing investment story."

Describing the ideal mentor, Dorton draws a distinct picture: Offer meaningful expertise in areas where you actually have deep expertise. Listen, and use your business experience to help the entrepreneur identify key issues that need to be addressed. Add value by identifying key priorities, remembering you’ll be in a team so you don’t have to have all the answers yourself.

When Dorton thinks about who would benefit most from involvement in VMS, she thinks about the people involved. From her perspective, ventures that get the most out of the program are very thoughtful and open minded, are able to clearly articulate what they have accomplished to date, work to identify what their next key milestones should be, and are eminently coachable.

"CED’s VMS is a great opportunity to build high quality relationships within a community of people that can and want to help you,” she said. “My first mentor company was more than two years ago, and I’m still working with them. I still keep up with companies that have moved on from VMS and I continue to share my network with them. So it’s really all about the relationships you create.”

For more information on CED's Venture Mentoring Service, visit  Applications for ventures and mentors are available online.

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