The Download: At Distilled Intelligence, start-ups try to rise above the rest

October 14, 2012

One hundred start-ups seeking seed and early-stage venture capital vied for oversized checks and investors’ attention during a two-day competition held in the District last week.

The event, called Distilled Intelligence, was roughly double in size and attendance compared to the inaugural contest held in Herndon last year. It comes as efforts to heighten the profile of the local technology sector continue to build.

Several groups that provide seed-stage capital to young ventures have taken root here in recent months and District officials have specifically identified the sector as a driver of economic growth.

“Had we held the event in another jurisdiction, it would be successful,” said Jonathon Perrelli, founding partner at Fortify.vc, which organized the contest. “But we believe that D.C. is the heart of the tech community.”

The District also pumped $100,000 into Fortify.vc earlier this year in a deal that lured the seed-stage investment fund and business incubator away from Arlington. Distilled Intelligence must be held in Washington as part of the deal. “The city is investing heavily in technology and encouraging people to be here,” said Mayor Vincent Gray, who announced the winners. “We are working hard to be able to become a real technology hub.”

The first-place prize for early-stage companies went to Speek, a Dulles firm with telephone conferencing software that runs over the Internet. The company was also well-received during a business competition this spring at the Capital Connection conference.

Distilled Intelligence requires “a lot of preparation and just making sure you tell your story well,” said Speek chief executive John Bracken.

“The plus side is it’s instant gratification,” co-founder Danny Boice added.

Instant indeed. The first day began at 9 a.m. with rapid-fire, one-minute business pitches from 50 of the companies. By 4:30 in the afternoon, Bracken and Boice had a supersized check in hand for $35,000.

Second-place finisher CampEasy, an online portal that connects parents with summer camps, claimed $10,000. Rockville-based Tista Games, a video game production company, took home $5,000 and the third-place title.

The three winners in the seed-stage category were announced after press time on Friday.

The money comes from Fortify.vc’s fund and includes an equity stake in the winning ventures.

overlys@washpost.com

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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