Elizabeth Perry (EP) and Farley Duvall (FD): Pathways to Exit was launched in direct response to a perceived need in the TMT sector for a platform for European Innovation that included entrepreneurs at every stage of development – along with the global investment community, large corporate and services firms that support the industry. Since its launch in 2009, “Pathways” has become recognised as the most exclusive event for European Tech Innovation. It gathers the “bright stars” from the European technology scene and connects them with global as well as local investment.
What is the key to organising a successful event?
EP: While organising an event is not rocket science, putting together quality experience takes a bit of foresight and effort. For us, the key is people. We spend the entire year nurturing and expanding a network of top-notch industry players. Of course, we are on the lookout for those “hot” new firms, but we also keep close tabs on the growth and success of firms we know well. We will continue to be successful because of the intimacy of the experience we create, and because of the calibre of the people who join us.
What makes this summit different from any other similar conference in Europe?
EP: Our focus is on the entire company journey. We are not just targeting the hot new start-ups out there, and there are plenty of events for these younger firms. Also, we are not a “pitch fest,” though we do provide the opportunity for companies to present their visions on stage before potential investors. What we do is create an experience with all of our events, providing the intimacy we feel is the optimal environment in which to really connect with the decision makers -the people who will help your business thrive, and ultimately even change your life. It’s personal. We’re pretty sure that’s what makes it work.
What are the main challenges for start-up companies in the current scenario?
FD: The biggest challenges for start-ups in Europe, and most of the world is finding funding as well as talent. Europe has had many incubators and accelerators launching over the last five years, and this is great for the ecosystem. However, it is still difficult to find investors who will put in seed or angel funding. Most European VCs focus on Series A or later and there is still a shortage of capital.
Making things even more difficult, many entrepreneurs in Europe do not look outside of their own cities and countries for funding or talent. We launched White Bull precisely to help solve these two problems, by connecting European entrepreneurs with global investors and Big Brands. We want to connect the fragmented ecosystems across Europe. There is a lot of power in knowing who your European counterparts are and what they are doing. Silicon Valley’s Angel List recently announced it received $24 million in funding from a huge syndicate of investors. It provides a pretty effective one-stop shop for entrepreneurs to go and get information and funding. In Europe, there are similar local sites for start-ups/funding, but there does not seem to be a pan-European version. Maybe this is a business idea for White Bull!
There is often a slippery slope associated with events and P/L, how do you balance this as organisers?
FD: Two of our guiding principles are free is not a business model, and you get what you pay for. We think there is a place for large, sponsored events that are free or close to it. But who do they benefit? If I am an entrepreneur looking to get some time with an investor, it is not going to happen in a place with five to ten thousand people.
If you want access to quality people in a setting where you can actually have time to do more than exchange an elevator pitch and a business card, wouldn’t you be willing to pay something for it? We “sell” access and package it in a great conference experience. For me, the best summary of why we charge for events was written by Boris Veldhuizen van Zanten of TheNextWeb.
What are your criteria when it comes to designing the panel of speakers?
EP: We look for industry players and speakers who will speak from personal experience, and share meaningful information with the audience, both on the entrepreneur side, as well as the investor side. The conference is designed to be helpful to the entrepreneur as well as to the investor and the services firm. Speakers are a part of that. Of course, the content has to be relevant to the firms in the audience, but we look for something personal… even fun! While we are not TED, we have seen incredible impact of the inspirational story.
What are your expectations for Pathways to Exit 2013?
FD: We expect that Pathways 2013 will top them all. The line-up this year is amazing. Each year we will raise the bar, and each year we will have fun making it even more special than the year before. Along with the great speakers, the presenting firms are also particularly top-notch. This year’s judging panel for the Bully Awards will undoubtedly have tough decisions ahead!
What is next for White Bull, yourselves and the summit?
EP & FD: We will continue to build on the success of our anchor Pathways Summit, always expanding our network, while maintaining the intimacy we have created. We are also working on expanding our reach even more into the US, Asia, and Canada – continue to provide not just events, but support for the entrepreneur – connecting them with the resources that can help them reach the next levels of success. Stay tuned for more news on our website!
Editor’s note: Whitebull is still ongoing, you can get details of the annual conference here. (March 30, 2017)