Party could be the start of the next big startup


In a dark, crowded night club, cocktails and conversation flow between 20 and 30-somethings wearing nametags. You'd be excused if you mistook this for a singles event. But its founder assures us tonight is about a different kind of matchmaking.

"This is the real underbelly of the tech scene," said SF New Tech founder Myles Weissleder.

Mixed into this crowd are CEOs, investors and maybe the entrepreneur with the next big idea. Myles Weissleder started SF New Tech to bring them all together.

"People here have some great ideas and they provide the direct input into the decision maker at that company," said Weissleder.

Some input happens that the bar, but across the room, something else is shaping up. Tonight, eight startups will pitch their ideas to this highly educated, sometimes skeptical crowd -- hoping for suggestions, publicity and maybe funding.

"Going in with a venture capitalist is a lot like going into a marriage. I would like to know someone very in depth before I decide to give them a lot of money," said GGV Capital associate Andrew Manoske.

In that case, consider this a first date. The pitch starts like what you'd hear in a board room. Though instead of a few people to captivate, you've got a few hundred and most of them had a few drinks while the DJ was playing. It helps to start with a joke.

"Anyone else feel like starting a startup? The reality is you're actually going to lose your job," quipped Planwise founder Vincent Turner, as the audience chuckled.

But aside from the music and the refreshments, there's one other little thing here you won't find in a boardroom. And at more than two feet wide, there's actually nothing little about it. Casting its ominous red glow across the room, a digital clock big enough for a basketball scoreboard slowly ticks down to zero.

"Uh, the clock was -- good," said Mingly founder Tyler Koblasa with a hint of sarcasm after he finished his pitch. Pointburst co-founder Mick Twomey added, "Definitely makes you be concise and probably miss some things."

Just like in speed dating, you have five minutes. Not a second more.

"And if you can't get your point across in five minutes then you've got some work to do," said Weissleder. Then come the questions.

"It's a savvy crowd," said Twomey. "I was actually quite well warned about what to expect with the questions."

But survive the grilling, and you could be like Xavier Damman.

Cool enough for the president and Oprah, Damman's social media tool Storify debuted here last year and has since raised $2 million. Now, the young CEO and co-founder is back on a second date of sorts -- not to brag, but to inspire the young, casually dressed, perhaps slightly tipsy people he thinks can change the world.

"There is a better future ahead of us," said Damman. "And we just need to shape it. And entrepreneurs, hackers are the ones who're going to shape this future."

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