Looking for venture capital Manatee-based Clare Controls to make presentation at investment conference

jrich@bradenton.comJanuary 28, 2013 

MANATEE -- He'll only have eight minutes to explain to would-be investors why his start-up technology company is worthy of millions of their dollars.

But Brett Price, founder and CEO of Clare Controls in Manatee County, isn't worried. He's confident he has a top-notch business plan as well as an experienced management team and a product that fills a void in the marketplace.

Clare Controls, which designs sophisticated home-automation systems, is a presenter at this year's Florida Venture Capital Conference being held Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Ponte Vedra near Jacksonville.

This is Price's first time at the conference, but he's no newcomer to seeking venture capital funds. Clare Controls is his fourth start-up business, and he knows the ropes.

"I want to put as much risk in the rear-view mirror as possible," the entrepreneur said. "I need the capital to grow marketing and sales."

So he and his team will give a structured presentation, answer a few questions and hope for the best.

The conference, in its 22nd year, puts together venture capitalists and investment bankers with new companies like Clare Controls, judged the best and the brightest in the state.

"We have a rigorous selection process," said Florida Venture Forum Executive Director Kevin Burgoyne. The conference has a panel of venture capitalists who select the 20 companies invited to pitch their products to venture capitalists, investment bankers and private equity investors.

"The presenting companies usually have $3 million-plus in revenues," he said. Over the years, about$2.7 billion has been raised for enterprising companies in Florida.

The conference features some of the most innovative, fastest-growing companies in Florida, Burgoyne said.

Companies are judged on their market acceptance usually through their revenues and their ability to grow. "It's an honor, a stamp of approval just to be selected," he said.

In a report by Money Tree assembled last week by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, Florida ranked 18th in the country for attracting venture capital -- a drop from 2010 when it ranked 15th.

Florida companies brought in $203 million in venture capital, down 42 percent from the previous year.

Leading the nation was California with $15 billion in venture capital, followed by Massachusetts with$3 billion and New York with $1.9 billion.

Burgoyne said the numbers tell him "we've got work left to do."

"The country's been through rough economic times, which have impacted venture capital investments," he said. "Investors are being more selective, doing their due diligence very carefully."

But he said he is optimistic about Florida's future in attracting venture capital dollars.

"I'm optimistic because I can see behind the curtain a little bit, and I see a lot of good work that is taking place," Burgoyne said. "Florida has a tremendous amount of resources dedicated to helping companies grow."

An estimated 400 people are expected at this year's conference, the highest number in its history -- a good indicator, Burgoyne thinks, of increased interest from investors.

Price doesn't pay attention to the news that venture capital has declined.

"For the right business plan and the right market opportunity, there's always money," he said. Getting funding is tougher than seven or eight years ago, Price says, but he knows that these ups and downs come in cycles.

He's looking for capital partners who can become strategic partners.

"We are looking for someone who has investment experience, who will review our strategic plans and give us feedback," Price said.

In a conference hall between and after presentations, investors can meet one-on-one with companies like Clare Controls to get more information. Price welcomes all the feedback he can get.

"Nobody is more critical of my products than me," he said. "I take it as constructive criticism. It can always be better."

Price and his team spent two years and $7 million designing and defining the automation systems previously available in only luxury homes.

"Our focus was to build systems in the $300,000 home category, make them more affordable," he said.

Using Apple platforms such as iPhones and iPads and cloud-based technologies, the systems can be individually tailored to control everything from security lighting and entertainment systems to garage doors and pools.

"What is happening is builders are being faced with consumers who have iPads and are asking if they can do something for their homes with them," Price said.

About 15 to 20 homebuilders already have signed on to have the systems installed as part of their new home construction, some as options and some as standard features. Medallion Home, John Cannon Homes and Arthur Rutenberg Homes are among the builders using Clare systems.

Most presenters at the venture capital conference don't walk away with an investment check -- the process is longer and more involved than that, Burgoyne said.

It may come months later when an investor's friend or a venture capital group not involved in the conference hears about the companies and think their money has found its fit.

Price, who says Clare Controls should make $10 million in revenue this year, thinks he'll find the money he is looking for.

He knows it takes patience, hard work and a brilliant idea.

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