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A weed-killing invention, a grocery-store app that helps shoppers find items on their list, a podcast for high school students — these business ideas are diverse. But they’re typical of the range of pitches presented at a SunDown RunDown event. You never know what’s going to be thrown out, or who’s going to be listening.

Anyone with an idea — no matter its stage of development — can give a five minute business pitch at the monthly meetings held by various chapters, including Columbus and New Albany, during after-work hours at various bars.

In the audience are investors and business mentors who want to guide new entrepreneurs, help them refine pitches or want to find the next up-and-coming company.

Five-minute pitches are followed by five minutes of feedback, all exchanged over glasses of craft beer and wine. It’s casual. No deals are being made. No money is being handed out, but business cards are exchanged.

SunDown RunDown is a nonprofit that connects entrepreneurs with business professionals and investors to help get their idea moving in the right direction. What started as a Columbus event series in 2013 has spread to branches in New Albany, Canton, Mansfield and Akron.

“We try to create collisions in the market between the entrepreneur and the resources they need to be able to take the next step,” said Paul Proffitt, SunDown’s founder. “You put a lot of business people in a room together and they hear a lot of ideas being passed back and forth and those connections are made out of that.”

Meet-ups for entrepreneurs such as this aren’t new. Wakeup Startup and Rev1’s Concept Academy have been around in some form for years, but SunDown is taking things a step or two further.

In addition to pitch events, SunDown is hosting “Lunch and Learns,” mini seminars led by business leaders, and is raising money to start its own investment fund specifically geared toward early stage start-ups.

The fund will fill a much-needed gap in investment funding, Proffitt said. Most funds, such as those through Ohio Third Frontier and Rev1, are geared toward tech companies and don’t provide capital until a business has shown potential for growth.

This fund will offer capital for all types of businesses and provide it much sooner in the process.

“There isn’t that risk capital. There isn’t that investor class that’s saying, ‘Here’s your $30k, go make a run at it,’ ” Proffitt said.

While this would make SunDown investments riskier than those made by traditional investment companies, the fund will provide made by traditional investment companies, the fund will provide smaller amounts of money to many different start-ups, diversifying the risk so that the reward should even out in the long run and sustain the fund once it’s up and running.

SunDown won’t start investing until it raises at least $1.2 million, but Proffitt says the goal is grow the fund to $4.5 million.

As is the case with most angel investments and venture-capital funds, SunDown would receive a return on its investment when the company it’s investing in issues shares publicly or is bought by a bigger company.

Proffitt has been dabbling in entrepreneurial ventures for years. He’s been a mentor for Ohio State University’s business plan competition and taught classes at Columbus State Community College and Columbus Idea Foundry. He’s tried his hand at everything from dotcom start-ups to a biodiesel company, and in many cases those attempts taught him what not to do, he said. It’s one of the reasons he believes in SunDown’s mission.

It’s his “passion project,” and he doesn’t make any money off the events. There’s no fee to start a branch, pitch events are free and the price of attending a Lunch and Learn is used to pay for the provided lunch.

The founders of InfoGPS Networks, a data tracking company, gave a business pitch at the Mansfield SunDown chapter and connected with an angel investor in the audience. After subsequent meetings, the connection resulted in a $250,000 investment.

“After hearing us speak about our company… he connected us with (others),” said Rick Iler, co-founder and chief financial officer of InfoGPS. “It was speaking at SunDown RunDown that got us in front of that audience.”

Of course, that doesn’t happen for everyone. If nothing else, Sundown helps entrepreneurs hone their business pitch.

“The thing that we typically see, especially in the early stages, the entrepreneur has a really great idea of what their product or what their service is going to be, but they don’t necessarily have the business wrapper around it,” Proffitt said.

That wrapper is important to investors, and if the presentation is sloppy, the entrepreneur is less likely to be taken seriously.

“You certainly don’t want to give a pitch for the first time in front of someone like me, who’s going to make a funding decision,” said Michael Butler, partner at NCT Ventures, a venture capital company in Columbus.

Butler has been to a few SunDown events, and said they’re beneficial because they allow entrepreneurs to meet with venture capitalists and angel investors in casual settings before making a formal pitch.

A calendar of SunDown RunDown’s August and September events can be found at sundownrundown.org.)

Source: SunDown RunDown lets entrepreneurs practice pitching in Columbus, Mansfield, other cities. (Braintree tenant InfoGPS cited in Columbus Dispatch article) URL: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2015/08/12/sundown-rundown-business-pitch-gatherings.html