30 Years at Venture Madness, by Invest Southwest & Arizona Commerce Authority

Stories from 30 Years of Venture Madness

What is the first year you attended Venture Madness, and what’s your story?

Invest Southwest celebrates its 30th year of bringing together accredited investors with the region’s most promising early-stage companies with the 2022 Venture Madness Conference.

To help celebrate this milestone anniversary, we asked attendees and former presenters for their best Venture Madness stories. From presenting in SaaS tracks to witnessing the program’s evolution, here are a handful of stories from VM. 

My first experience at Venture Madness

The first year I attended Venture Madness was in 2021. Usually, the event is held in March (around March Madness), however, due to COVID-19, the event was pushed back to October. I was in the SaaS track, and knew some of the companies I would be competing against. For me, the event was mostly about getting feedback from those in the community on our company, our presentation, and areas of focus to better drive our company forward. On top of that, making more connections in the VC/SaaS space was my main goal – any winning (which we did!) was a bonus.

Will Shaw, CEO, Better Agency

Connecting with Arizona’s Growing Venture Ecosystem

Fall 2021 was the first time I attended Venture Madness and I got to catch up with other CEO\’s I have not seen since COVID. I enjoyed learning about the new companies, meeting their teams, and seeing the growth and pivots of companies I have known over the years. It was also an opportunity to meet people like Jeff Erickson of Carta who is in a position to speak about the changes in venture capital nationally. I received feedback from a range of people of diverse backgrounds, which was refreshing to get new viewpoints.

Stephanie Schull, CEO, Kegelbell

2021 Attendee / 2022 Speaker / 2023+ ???

I’ve been to hundreds of conferences, but my first Venture Madness event was one of my favorite events that I’ve attended. Hearing pitches from other founders, connecting on a meaningful level with the local startup community, and better understanding the ecosystem just made me feel like I had finally found a group I wanted to be a part of for a long time. I walked away so inspired from my experience in October 2021 that I set a goal for myself to experience Venture Madness from every angle: as an attendee, speaker, mentor, investor, judge, and sponsor. Luckily, I had the opportunity to present at Venture Madness 2022, and hope to fulfill the other bucket list items in the future.

Brett Farmiloe, CEO, Terkel

First Year Attending Venture Madness

This will actually be my first year ever attending Venture Madness in 2022. I’ve been recently promoted to be an Investment Director for my company and I thought this event was the perfect way to explore the local startup community and get in touch with other investors. My story in general is fairly short. I graduated from college with a degree in public relations and knew I wanted a career based in sales. That being said, my current company Lighter Capital, hired me on as a BDR and I grew to become an Investment Director for them. I’m now able to help entrepreneurs get non-dilutive growth capital and it has been an amazing experience. Founders build these amazing products and systems and to be a small part of their growth story is why I am very passionate about my job.

Tanner Kovacevich, Investment Director, Lighter Capital

Participant of 2021 SaaS track

I attended Venture Madness in 2021 as a part of the SaaS track. I started my company in 2020 and was able to get into the 2021 VM track. Attending the event allowed me to connect with other local founders as well as get exposed to new capital opportunities with investors from all over the country. Being able to speak succinctly and intelligently about your business is job #1 and VM is a great way to hone that skill.

Jacob Carter, CEO, Nurture Boss

VM2021: Learned so much

My first VM was in 2021 as a presenter and was one of the first events I attended in person after almost 1.5 years of Covid-induced Zoomitis. The presentations were wildly impressive and polished, but the social interactions were comically rusty. At times it felt like we were post-apocalyptic survivors emerging from our bunkers after such a long time that we’d forgotten how to interact. Handshakes were met with fist-bumps, fist-bumps were met with hugs, and the only flawless greeting I witnessed was two people having a left-handed handshake. Struggles in finding the appropriate volume to use in a non-laptop microphone setting was inspiring to watch. But once we all relearned how to be ourselves, VM served as a crucial reminder that I wasn’t alone as a founder. Launching and running a startup is such a unique experience, and Covid has made it even more isolating. The friendships made and strengthened with my peers at the event were vital to bring back into my life as a founder.

Benjamin Bottner, CEO, Steady Install

Arizona’s Longest Running Capital Conference

I attended Venture Madness for the first time in 2016. The program has evolved a lot since then and I am so excited to be part of the 30-year anniversary this year. It’s wonderful to support Arizona’s longest running capital conference and pitch competition. I have had the pleasure of serving as a mentor for the last two events. It’s been rewarding to meet innovative founders that have so much passion for changing the world! I have worked in Economic Development for the last 11 years and now oversee the emerging tech and capital ecosystem work for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. GPEC works with our 22 member communities, Maricopa County, and more than 190 private sector companies to advance its mission of attracting quality businesses and advocating for the competitiveness of Greater Phoenix. We serve as a strategic partner for companies across the globe that are looking to expand or relocate to the region.

Mark Paratore, Vice President, Business Development, GPEC

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