Entrepreneurial pitch also a chance for mentorship

Cameron McCaig cleared his throat and straightened his tie before speaking to the selection committee. Although nervous, he was well-prepared, having rehearsed repeatedly in front of a digital video camera.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night,” McCaig said to his partner, Kathleen Meyer, before his turn came.

Meyer, an ex-IBM executive, and McCaig, an emergency-room physician, co-founded The Trestle Project, an Internet service that helps people find lawyers, doctors and other professionals.

Their presentation on the morning of Feb. 11 would determine whether they would land a coveted spot on the Peak Venture Group’s 5 Minute Forum.

Every other month, three companies are chosen to give a 5-minute presentation at PVG’s breakfast meeting of 140 investors and business leaders in the community. Doing well at that event could mean landing the capital needed to help a fledgling company get to the next level.

For new and emerging companies, the first hurdle is getting support from PVG’s mentors who can help would-be entrepreneurs hone their message, form alliances, find lab space and more.

“It’s great to share business expertise with start-up companies,” said JoAnn M. Schmitz, chair of the PVG 5 Minute Forum and selection committee and an attorney with Schmitz Law Firm.

One of the mentors, Etienne Hardre, senior associate at BiggsKofford P.C., said the success of a company depends on being able to articulate what it does.

“If you can communicate an abstract concept, you’re just as ready as if you’d done the presentation,” Hardre said.

Passion also matters, said mentor Jeff Chapman, principal of PivotalPath LLC, a consulting firm.

“It has to be something they care about,” Chapman said. “It’s easy to talk for three days about your baby,” Chapman said, “but don’t try to scrunch down a long sales talk. Take your 30-second elevator pitch — and then you have an extra four and a half minutes.”

Mentors range from attorneys to successful entrepreneurs to CPAs, and they feel much like proud parents when a company succeeds in winning a presenter’s spot.

Not all companies need financial help. Many need to form alliances. The Trestle Project, for instance, needs beta users, companies willing to use its product during the testing phase. The company also needs about $500,000 in investment capital for the first year.

Meyer has mentored other companies for six years. Now she’s on the other side of the fence.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Meyer said. “I’m grateful for it — it gives insights I would never have seen.”

Both co-founders have impressive resumes. But that doesn’t necessarily equate with entrepreneurial success.

Meyer, who has a master’s in business administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University, has held leadership positions in JPMorgan, NCR and IBM Global Business Services. Five years ago, she founded Vision for Success, a business and consulting firm.

McCaig, who has a medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia, launched and directs the Flight for Life services in Southern Colorado. He also partners with ResortMed, which provides medical attention to vacationers away from their local providers, and offers “concierge” medical services in Vail and Aspen.

“As a doctor, I can help about 3,000 to 4,000 people per year,” McCaig said. “But I wanted to reach out and have a broader impact,” by establishing Trestle.

After researching how many millions of searches are made online each month for physicians and psychotherapists, the idea for their company came to fruition.

The Trestle Project is an Internet portal for connecting professionals — attorneys, accountants, coaches, psychotherapists, consultants, doctors, etc. — with prospective clients.

Although many professionals have plenty of expertise, a client wouldn’t know much about that person or whether there’s an emotional connection until they’ve met him or her and paid a consultation fee.

With The Trestle Project, prospective clients can take a two- to three-minute online profile test, to assess their needs and what they’re looking for in a professional.

Then the database shows them a compatible match selection of, say, 10 service providers, and clients may watch an introductory video of each. Once they choose a professional, they may schedule an initial, free, live video-conference consultation before deciding whether to meet face-to-face. “It’s a no-risk, try before you buy,” Meyer said.

The service provider pays a subscription fee, but prospective clients pay nothing.

Meyer and McCaig had a good presentation, but it lacked the clarity and focus needed to attract investors and beta users. That was before they began getting the help of PVG mentors.

“The greatest value of mentoring is that it’s helped us crystallize the core of what we’re doing — to be able to succinctly say, ‘This is what we are. This is what we do,’” Meyer said.

It has paid off.

McCaig sailed through his presentation. He neither looked at the Power Point screen, nor used notes, as did other competitors. He made eye contact with the audience, spoke with authority, his words coordinating with the bullet points on the slideshow.

“Nobody uses the yellow pages anymore. … It’s a role of the dice — with cost, effort and risk to find an attorney or CPA. If we go online and type in a search word, there are 650,000 physicians and 170,000 psychotherapists. … Our solution is a virtual handshake,” McCaig said.

Out of eight companies, three were chosen — The Trestle Project, Olocity and GeoRights — to present at the Peak Venture Group breakfast and annual software technology event on March 12.

Three others were recommended for further mentoring, and two companies were invited to have a vendor display at the event.

Out in the hallway on his way to the hospital, after learning that their company had been selected, McCaig was euphoric; Meyer couldn’t stop smiling.

“When I get to the car, I’ll let out a victory whoop,” McCaig said.