Events / Investing / Startups / Venture capital

We watched VC Charlie O’Donnell give his honest take on a bunch of startup ideas

The Brooklyn Bridge Ventures investor hosted another round of his #notapitch series. Here's what O'Donnell liked and what he didn't care for.

Charlie O'Donnell gives laidback advice at #notapitch. (Photo by April Joyner)
Mobile banking for expats. A hands-free vaporizer for marijuana. An online platform to request new neighborhood businesses.

These were among the startup ideas floated at the latest installment of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures founder Charlie O’Donnell’s #notapitch series on Monday night.
The event, as we’ve covered in the past, is designed to be a no-pressure forum for participants to share their startup ideas, no matter how audacious or half-baked. No PowerPoint decks came into play. Participants weren’t even allowed to stand in front of the room to present their ideas. Instead, they remained in the audience as they spoke.
As O’Donnell, fresh off a newly raised $15 million fund, told the group of roughly three dozen at Geraldo’s in Brooklyn Law School’s Feil Hall, he wasn’t there to vet potential deals, although he has made connections with promising entrepreneurs in the past. One of them, Nicole Sanchez, the founder of Vixxenn, a now-defunct ecommerce platform for hair stylists, he eventually funded “a year and two business models later,” he said. (Sanchez now runs eCreditHero, a service for improving one’s credit score.) But, he insisted, his main goal of the night was to lend a helpful, friendly ear.
“I’m not an expert in anything,” he joked. “I do know a fair bit about ice cream.” (That’s referring to Brooklyn Bridge Venture’s investment in Ample Hills Creamery.)
Here are three participants whose pitches ideas stood out.

Anne Kavanaugh, founder, Zera

Kavanaugh originally launched her company as a “Tinder for roommates”: an online platform to identify people with similar living preferences. But recently, she’s pivoted to a new concept. Meet Zera, an artificial-intelligence app that suggests apartment listings based upon one’s preferences, as well as users who could potentially join in on a listing. “We offer a curated coliving experience,” she explained. (Riding that coliving wave.)
O’Donnell’s take: He thought the technology could be helpful but wasn’t sold on the idea of yet another real estate site or app. “You could sell this to real estate companies,” he said. “It seems like a much better way to go than having to create a whole another brand.”

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, partner, BuzzMaker

In addition to political marketing, BuzzMaker’s core focus, Spitzer-Rubenstein often works with startups and small businesses on marketing strategy. But, he admitted, many of them don’t really need a consultant — just a competent copywriter for their web and social media profiles. “I was thinking of starting with an agency, then creating a marketplace: something like Elance or oDesk,” he said. (Those two companies have merged under the name Upwork.)
O’Donnell’s take: He was less interested in the marketplace idea but thought the idea of standardizing marketing work had potential. “I think putting a brand, a pseudo-certification around marketing is super-interesting,” he said.

Lisa Mitchell, publisher, Global Money Matters

Mitchell introduced herself as a “recovering banker.” She once worked in finance in Asia, and there realized how difficult it could be for expatriates to manage their financial affairs abroad. She currently runs a blog on the topic and is writing a book, but her next goal is to develop a portal that would educate them on helpful services. “It’s finance for digital nomads,” she said.
O’Donnell’s take: Mitchell’s idea could serve a lucrative niche of customers, he said. He suggested that Mitchell develop a service to generate checklists based on users’ particular needs, then connect them with live human help. “You’re in a market where people might pay more to have a real person on the other end,” he said. “I personally like businesses that start out with the highest-paying customers and then work their way down.”

Series: Brooklyn

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