Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Leading KC Entrepreneurs Pitch to KU Class


What does it take to sell an idea to an investor? Students in Professor George Bittlingmayer’s Entrepreneurial Finance class at KU’s Edwards Campus recently found out. The founders of three of Kansas City’s most innovative startups demonstrated their “pitches,” fielded questions, and explained the appeal of entrepreneurship in early October.

Left to right: KU students Robert Van Trump and Hong Bing Zhou; 
Pipeline Innovators Kyle Johnson, Xandra Sifuentes and Jeff
 Blackwood, and KU students Sarah Schmidt, and Darren Campbell

The three entrepreneurs, Jeff Blackwood, Kyle Johnson and Xandra Sifuentes, all have the distinction of having been chosen for the elite Pipeline program. Founded in 2006, Pipeline is a selective startup accelerator that connects the Midwest’s most promising entrepreneurs with a network of supporters, peers, and advisers.  Each year approximately 10-12 new members are invited to join and participate in a rigorous, yearlong business leadership development program.  Mr. Blackwood and Mr. Johnson were members of the 2011 PIPELINE class and Ms. Sifuentes was invited to join in 2012.                 

An entrepreneur’s pitch to potential investors states the problem, outlines the entrepreneurs solution and marketing strategy, and offers estimates of the potential market size and company projections. The best pitches are polished, focused and attract financing from angel investors and venture capitalists. 

Xandra Sifuentes is currently the President of Metactive Medical, LLC, a subsidiary of medical device company Novita Therapeutics.  Prior to her position at Metactive Medical, she earned her MBA from the University of Missouri-Columbia and co-founded two medical device start-up companies.    Leveraging an experienced team of professionals, Metactive plans to introduce a ball stent that will repair cerebral aneurysms by 2016.  “We are looking to have half the cost of our competitors.  Our product only requires one ball stent and comes in variable sizes,” Ms. Sifuentes explained. Metactive plans to enter European markets before launching the product in the US due to a more predictable regulatory environment and a quicker adoption rate of medical technology.

Jeff Blackwood is the CEO and President of AB Pathfinder, a start-up company that develops technology tools to aid children with autism, Asperger’s, and other brain development disorders. The company has partnered with Microsoft to develop a web-based application that fosters communication between therapists and educators, allowing them to focus more on the children than on administrative tasks. “We didn’t build this software in a vacuum. We had a solid team of business and scientific advisors behind us including medical researchers at University of Kansas,” Mr. Blackwood said. 

KU graduate Kyle Johnson is the CEO and founder of music streaming service AudioAnywhere, and won the January 2012 pitch contest for his 2012 Pipeline cohort. Before establishing AudioAnywhere, Johnson worked for more than six years in management consulting. His vision is to enhance the business model of online music streaming services by more closely tailoring advertising with consumer preferences and thus improving advertising revenue per song played.  “We can make more money than Pandora on a per-user basis,” Mr. Johnson predicted.

Perhaps the most memorable takeaway of the evening was the relentless drive and ambition that characterizes the most successful entrepreneurs.  “The presenters really believed in their product…and really made you believe their product and ideas were going to be successful,” said Darren Campbell, an engineer and current MBA student.

Jared Sinclair, also in the MBA program and in health care, came away with an appreciation of the work and effort that goes into raising money. Despite differences in style, “each one knows how to get people interested in what they had to say.”

In response to questions about the lessons of entrepreneurship, Kyle Johnson summed up his experience. “You live and learn.  Raising money is the hardest thing.  Knowing how not to waste it is the second hardest thing.”

Xandra Sifuentes acknowledged the risks of the entrepreneurial path, but said she finds value and fulfillment in her work.  “I love the creative process in bringing an idea to life that will help save lives.”