Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Mobile 'Shark Tank': Uber-backed ride-and-pitch to match startups with investors

For some lucky startup founder, it might be the best 15-minute ride ever.

Uber, the disruptive car service that is trying to bull the old-school taxi business to the side across the globe, is partnering with as many as 10 Tampa Bay area investment firms to offer a mobile Shark Tank opportunity of sorts to area entrepreneurs.

For Tampa Bay, getting picked by Uber for this quirky ride-and-pitch event is a bit of a coup. Only a few cities across the country have participated in such an event so far — a sign that the startup community here is substantial enough to catch Uber's attention.

After all, Uber is no lightweight. This summer it completed a round of funding that valued the 5-year-old ride-hailing company at a whopping $51 billion. That puts Uber in similar market value to giants like Duke Energy, the country's largest power company.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9, in parts of downtown Tampa, Tampa's West Shore district, the area around USF's main Tampa campus and downtown St. Pete, startup founders or budding entrepreneurs can use a special code to request an Uber ride. The vehicle will arrive complete with a potential investor inside ready to talk during 15 minutes of drive time. The ride is free.

When the time is up, business cards are swapped, the founder gets dropped off and the Uber car and investor go on to the next coded call pickup. Uber has tried this in a few cities, including Philadelphia where Uber received thousands of calls for startup rides. About 30 people ultimately got one-on-one time to pitch their business or at least bounce ideas off a savvy investor.

The so called UberPitch event probably won't hurt Uber's local image either, since it's trying to push its own ride-hailing concept into the resistant Tampa Bay market.

Locally UberPitch is being organized by 18-month-old Florida Funders, an online service that connects startups to capital and has helped such area start-ups as SavvyCard and Luma­Stream. Florida Funders chief Dave Chitester says that, so far, he has lined up participating investors from his own Florida Funders, along with investment firms Stonehenge, TiE Tampa Angel Forum, Innovations Capital Group and Tessitura Capital. He hopes to add a few more firms to the mix.

When Uber first proposed a the ride-and-pitch, Chitester admits it seemed "goofy" but after learning more he now calls it a "genius" idea. He says Uber connected with Florida Funders because they are both disruptive businesses and kindred spirits.

Not all who call will likely get a ride during the three allotted hours. Chitester calls it a "lottery" and hopes 30 to 40 entrepreneurs will be able to get an Uber ride with a potential investor. He is reaching out to the metro area's major business incubators, technology groups, university entrepreneurship programs and co-working spaces to make sure most of the startup community is made aware of the UberPitch and have access to the calling codes that will deliver an Uber car with an investor eager to chat.

"At the least," says Chitester, "it sounds like a lot of fun."

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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