The Breakfast of Emerging Champions
By Felicia Morton
July 27, 2001

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The flow of venture capital may have slowed to a trickle, but that doesn't mean investors have stopped looking for promising young companies.

On a hot, muggy day in the middle of summer, 230 people packed into the air-conditioned ballroom at the McLean Ritz Carlton yesterday for the Century Club Grubstake Breakfast.

The Grubstake Breakfast is held quarterly by the Century Club of George Mason University, the business outreach arm of the university. The event features presentations by early stage companies that are looking for funding.

For companies, getting a coveted spot at the breakfasts isn't easy. On average, 40 companies apply to present at each breakfast, but only five are selected. Presenters are typically early stage companies but must be up and running and generating revenue.

Yesterday's breakfast was "the largest attendance we've had," said Stephen Johnson who sits on the public relations subcommittee for the Century Club and is also director of marketing communications for HireStrategy in Reston. "The fact that we've got all these people here in the middle of the summer when everyone should be at the beach is really amazing."

About 25 percent of those attending yesterday's breakfast were investors, he said. Johnson said people are attracted to the event because of the success rate of companies getting funded. During the 12 years the Grubstake Breakfast has been running, an average of one out of every two companies gets funded.

Johnson's company, HireStrategy, has first-hand experience with the Grubstake Breakfast. HireStrategy presented at the event in January and went on to receive $1.5 million in funding in April.

"That funding was a direct result of our presentation here," said Johnson.

Alan Merten, president of George Mason University, said the reason that the Grubstake Breakfast has been a success is because it's not a typical networking event.

"People come here not just to socialize, but to have a transaction," said Merten. "This organization has done well in getting people with have ideas and people who have money together."

Joshua Cameron, president and CEO of Alexandria-based Commerce Designs International, a software development company specializing in Internet-based applications to facilitate international trade, agreed.

"This is probably one of the few events that has such a prestigious reputation," said Cameron, who presented his company at the event. "The selection committee really does a great job."

Perhaps one of the most unique presenters was Angie Brooks, CEO of Beicom, Inc. The Alexandria company has developed a wireless wrist phone called "Gator" that helps groups keep track of one another - and more importantly, their children - at amusement parks. Brooks proudly wore a prototype of the Gator while she presented her company to the enthusiastic crowd.

"It's a great idea," said Bob Webb, partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. "What parent wouldn't want to rent one to protect their kids?"

In fact, Webb asked Brooks if there is a panic button for his kids to push if they were ever accosted by "a bad person" at one of these parks. To which Brooks wittily replied, "There is now!"

Elizabeth Vazquez and partner Virginia LittleJohn attended yesterday's breakfast said they look forward to the day when they will be behind the podium. Vazquez is president and Littlejohn chairman and CEO of Tradebuilders, a District company that coordinates trade missions between companies over the Web.

"We are aspiring Grubstake presenters," said Vazquez, who is considering applying for the next breakfast on Oct. 23, 2001. If you think your company has what it takes to present at the Century Club Grubstake Breakfast, click here for information on how you can apply.

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