Pitch Night Goes Honey Badger’s Way

By Skip Descant, Advocate business writer, November 19, 2011

The Honey Badger may “take what it wants,” as the saying goes, but Jared Loftus and his growing College District T-shirt empire took first selection Thursday night by a panel of venture capitalists as the best of four local companies pitching their business plans.

That little badger T-shirt —reflecting the nickname given to LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu e_SEmD has become an overnight success for College District. Loftus won’t say how many have been sold, “but it’s a lot,” he remarked.

“We choose companies that we think are scalable, and we think, with the right management team, could have success,” said Greg Bohlen, managing director of Morgan Creek Capital, describing some of the criteria the panelists considered when making their decisions.

Bohlen; Charles Lax, managing general partner of Grand Banks Capital; John Burke, founder and managing director of True Ventures; and Marlo Scott, owner and founder of Sweet Revenge, a wildly popular wine, beer and cupcake bar in Manhattan, made up the panel of judges Thursday night for Pitch Night at the Manship Theatre.

Pitch Night is hosted by the entrepreneur group SeNSE and was one of some 20 events during this week’s Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week. Pitch Nights are styled as exercises to allow participants to pitch their ideas to a panel of would-be investors.

Thursday night’s event was as close to that real experience as a business could get. The investors were from the venture capital ranks, and their questions and comments were real and often probing and critical.

“I don’t think $1 million is enough,” Bohlen flatly told Stacey Simmons, a founder of Omnicademy, in his comments after her pitch and her company’s need for investment. Omnicademy, an online firm that helps universities syndicate courses to other colleges, also pitched. The company was looking for an investment of somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million.

It was Loftus and his solid grasp on the college T-shirt market e_SEmD not just here in Baton Rouge but 250 other college towns around the country e_SEmD that solidly captured the audience choice and, ultimately, the investors’ seal of approval.

Lax, of Grand Banks Capital in Wellesley, Mass., had only one question: “Do you have your wire transfer information?”

“My wire transfer information,” Loftus repeated, a little incredulously, as the room erupted.

“This guy is scrappy. He’s out there hustling,” Lax remarked.

Neither Lax nor Loftus could be reached on Friday to confirm if Lax actually followed up and wrote Loftus a check, but endorsement at this level e_SEmD even verbal e_SEmD counts as a form of validation. And it could have value on par or beyond the cash awards being doled out.

Loftus was given a $2,000 cash prize from Raising Canes, seven hours of legal work from Babcock Partners and seven hours of accounting service from Daigrepont and Brian, a local accounting firm.

Other local companies pitching Thursday night included BitRaider, which makes technology to allow for fast download times for large files like video games or movies.
BitRaider came in second, picking up a $500 cash prize from Prescience Investments, three hours of legal service from Babcock Partners and three hours of accounting service from Daigrepont and Brian.

Then there was Omnicademy and Urinary BioSolutions biotechnology firm, with its technology in development to aid doctors in better locating the cause of female incontinence. The technology is ready to move to the next step of patient testing, company officials told the judging panel.

Loftus, 30, has become a familiar face around Baton Rouge. He also operates a couple food trucks and is involved with other ventures like Entrepreneur Headquarters co-working space. He has become recognized as somewhat of a guru when it comes to someone who figured out how to use social media like Facebook for more than spreading his own message, but as an ideal platform to listen and learn from possible customers. He often serves as a consultant for other businesses when it comes to using social media as a true marketing and direct communication tool with customers. College District, he noted, will often monitor customer trends and approval via social media platforms to measure inventory needs.

“In some cases, we’ll sell a couple thousand T-shirts before we even get them made. So people will pay us for their shirts before we even have to pay our vendor to get them,” Loftus said.

“We have done well the last three months,” Loftus told the panel of venture capitalists.

“I have to point that out that we are not only generating revenue, we are generating profit,” he cooed, to cheers, drawing out the word “profit” like a game-show host.

“These are real numbers,” Loftus continued, flipping to a slide showing the company’s cash-positive balance sheet. “And because these numbers can work, this valuation can work,” he added, pointing out his company’s $4.5 million worth.

Thursday night Loftus was pitching a request for $1.5 million.

Clearly, from the judges’ response, the pitch worked.

“When you sit around with your partnership e_SEmD your venture partnership e_SEmD and you ask, ‘Where are you going to make your investments?’ you typically have a lot of differences of opinion around the table,” Bohlen said as the group gathered to announce the night’s winners.

“People in the venture industry have opinions. And they also have a lot of experience with companies, and they have what I consider a third sense.”

Occasionally, Bohlen noted, a firm will walk into a room to present an idea to venture capitalists, and the VCs will all nod in unison and say, “Those are the guys. And tonight, that’s the case.”