There’s been an extremely lively debate online over the last few months about the practice of charging entrepreneurs to present to VCs. You can see my post on that subject here, one from my partner Jason Mendelson over on peHUB here, Jason Calicanis’ very popular post on the subject here (and a quick search on Google will pick up dozens more). At issue is the question of whether it’s reasonable to charge entrepreneurs to get in front of potential investors. I’m clearly on the side of not charging entrepreneurs to pitch to investor groups – reputable events of this nature can attract sponsor dollars and/or the angel investors involved should be footing the (relatively small) bill.
While the original discussion around this topic was specific to angel groups, the more recent conversation has included other forums where investors and companies come together such as conferences (like the one that Jason talks about in his post). To be completely clear, I don’t object to charging companies that attend these conferences the same registration fee as other paying attendees and I completely support the ability of conference organizers to make money by putting on a quality event through sponsorship dollars and attendee revenue. The practice I object to is charging only the presenting companies and/or charging them a multiple of what other attendees are charged.
I know that you can successfully operate a conference in this fashion because for the last 27 years the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association and KPMG have been running the Venture Capital in the Rockies conference that brings together companies headquartered in the Rocky Mountain Region with investors from across the country (and the world). I’ve had the pleasure of being the conference chair for the last two years – an experience that was eye-opening (running a successful conference is hard work!) but reinforced my view that one can successfully put on an event that both supports entrepreneurs and makes money. And while, as I state above, I think it’s fair game to charge presenting entrepreneurs who attend conferences the standard registration fee, in the case of VCIR we don’t charge our presenters anything at all. In fact we also allow them to bring additional executives from their companies for a deeply discounted rate from the standard conference fee (we actually lose money on these attendees as well). For 2010 this is not only true for the 20 main-track presenting companies but also true of the 5 “Technology Showcase” companies that are giving shorter, DEOM-style quick pitches at the front end of the conference (the Tech Showcase is something new that I’ve put into this year’s program).
We do this because it’s the right thing to do and because it helps us attract the best possible group of presenting companies from across our region, which in turn helps us attract quality investors, which in turn allows us to support the event through sponsors and attendance fees. I know that we have a quality product from the large number of sponsors, the number of returning attendees and the number of non-presenting companies who attend for the quality program and networking. The conference turns a profit (even this year in a difficult economy) and our presenters have been very successful attracting investment after their participation – all without charging our presenting companies.