Zach Poll walked up the meager staircase onto the stage at the Majestic Theater on Tuesday and stopped in the middle before sucking in a lungful of air. He stared out into an audience of more than 400 for a little more than a second then smiled and launched into a pitch illustrating what his company, EasyEye, hopes to accomplish.
“This will be the new way to buy over-the-counter reading glasses,” he said, detailing a kiosk that will gauge the eyeglass strength each customer needs without a trip to an optometrist.
Poll, the CEO of EasyEye, was the first of 10 startup leaders to get their five minutes before a roomful of potential investors at the Majestic at the edge of downtown Dallas. It was Pitch Day for Health Wildcatters, the sole accelerator for healthcare startups in the southwest. This was its second graduating class.
In return for 8 percent equity, Health Wildcatters provides $30,000 and a 12-week crash course in how to attract investors. With the help of a stable of mentors, the nascent business models will weave and warp and transform. The entrepreneurs will work on conveying confidence and passion; the pitch they’ll give to investors on the so-called Pitch Day—in some cases the largest audience they’ve ever appealed to—will need to pique interests enough for those with the cash to further inquire about the company.
“You’re not going to get a lot of deep insight in a five minute pitch,” says Dave Marshall, an energy consultant who invested in a company from the first Health Wildcatters class and is seriously considering sinking money into one from the second. “I’m looking for the passion. Excitement is probably too mild a word. I’m looking at the passion the entrepreneur has for the concept that they’re pitching.”
There was plenty of passion onstage Tuesday among the 10 presenters. The word “disrupt” bounced seemingly from pitch to pitch. The presenters aimed to illustrate the potential of the market they want to enter and why it’s stale, or why they should have a piece of it. Then, they reiterated why their product is necessary. The pitchers listed any large companies that have expressed interest and some highlighted board members who were past CEOs or doctors or technology experts. It’s about getting enough information across to wrangle a post-pitch meeting.
“What is amazing to me is how refined and polished these teams have become in getting the key messages out in a way that’s real,” said Charley Kiser, one of the program’s many mentors. “You’re putting down a sales pitch, but you’re able to relate to the audience about things important to the startup teams but also to the investors.”
Tuesday’s companies were part of the program’s second class. Ten presented, although a dozen were officially part of the 12-week program. Hubert Zajicek, CEO and co-founder, announced before the pitches that the first dozen graduates have cumulatively raised more than $6 million in investments since finishing late last year.
This new batch is a bit more diverse, a fact that could prompt additional interest from a broader swath of investors. There are invasive and noninvasive medical device companies, a pharmaceutical startup, digital health companies, and others that focus on consumer healthcare.
In all, there were 60 investors tied to the program and more than 100 mentors. Tuesday’s pitch day unveiled them to the rest of the city.
“The only thing that may not be fully appreciated in these programs is how important they are to the local business community,” Marshall said. “I think the attention and energy it brings to the city of Dallas—not just (Tech Wildcatters and Health Wildcatters) but all of the accelerators and startup opportunities—are really critical to keeping the energy level refreshed in the city of Dallas’ business community.”