Originally posted in The Idaho Statesman, Sept. 16, 2015 By Zach Sale
Recent $48 Million Investment Signals Good Things for Smaller Boise Startups
BOISE, Idaho --- It’s hard enough to get venture capital firms to give Idaho companies a look. Brad LaPray knows humility won’t inspire investor firms to cut multimillion-dollar checks for his biodegradable plastics company in Idaho Falls, BiologiQ.
So when LaPray gave his three-minute pitch to representatives from six out-of-state investment firms at a recent event at Trailhead in Boise, he didn’t shoot for subtlety.
“I started BiologiQ in Idaho five years ago to make a lot of money and save the world from death by plastics,” LaPray told the investors, who’d traveled from Albuquerque, Denver, Silicon Valley and Phoenix.
He said his company turns the potato waste from fries and potato chips into pellets that manufacturers can melt into traditional plastic molds. BiologiQ has proved its technology and competitive advantage with one patent issued and two pending, he said. Orders will increase eightfold this year, he said. The next step is to raise several million in venture capital to build a plant and ramp up production and distribution.
“If anybody here wants to make a lot of money, I suggest you talk to us and figure out how we can enter the market as soon as possible,” he said.
Eight companies made short, “Shark Tank”-style pitches. Most were from Boise. All were early-stage, all offered digital products or services — or in BiologiQ’s case, a science-driven ag-tech product — and all needed money. They sought anywhere from $250,000 to several million dollars in “seed money” to turn ideas into actual products and services.
Kyle Sales, founder of Outdoor Toy Share in Boise, described his business as Airbnb for RVs and motor boats, using software to match customers and vehicle owners. He needed $500,000 to begin testing in several markets. “It’s an area ripe for disruption,” he said.
Eric Haden, founder of Wedding Nook in Coeur d’Alene, explained how his online platform aggregates wedding vendors, meaning brides can shop for flowers, cakes, venues or anything else at a single site. The site’s soft launch turned a $68,000 profit in the last two months, he said.
Refer.com President Chris Bounds, a former executive at successful Boise tech startups MarkMonitor and Cradlepoint, went out of his way to thank the venture capitalists for making the flight to Boise.
“It’s still difficult to get people from Silicon Valley to come,” Bounds said. “They don’t want to invest here.”
LINKS IN THE CHAIN
The good news for those companies is that plenty of wealthy Idaho investors love to buy $10,000 to $50,000 lottery tickets on young companies, said Bill Gilbert, co-founder of the Caprock Group, a Boise wealth management firm. Startup founders typically develop their companies with personal money or investments from friends, family or “angel investors,” such as members of the Boise Angel Alliance.
“Boise’s great for seed rounds,” Gilbert says. “It’s sexy. People galvanize around that stuff.”
Founders of promising companies willing to hustle to piece together small investments can raise their first million dollars in Idaho, Gilbert says. LaPray says he pieced together $7 million, mostly in Idaho, from 40 to 50 “unsophisticated” investors — successful businesspeople who dabble in investing but who made their money outside of the professional investment world.