This year's eMerge Americas took place during Miami Tech Week, with the venture-backed conference drawing more than 16,000 attendees from 40 countries. The culminating event was the conference's Global Startup Showcase that this year merged with BIP Ventures' Startup Showdown for a mega-pitch competition in which one winner, Togal.AI, went home with a $420,000 first-place investment prize.
We recently spoke with BIP Ventures Vice President Dustin Drees (DD) and BIP Ventures Senior Associate Paraj Mathur (PM) about their conference experience.
The role BIP Ventures played in the eMerge Americas Startup Showcase
We partnered with Florida Funders and eMerge Americas to provide the first-place investment prize of $420,000. We also helped evaluate the enormous number of applications for the pitch competition that came in, including narrowing them down to the top 100 who attended a six-weeks-long program with mentorship and pitch practices.
BIP Ventures General Partner and COO Mark Flickinger served as a judge in the semifinals and Paul Judge was on stage as one of the judges for the finals. Tami McQueen, our VP of Marketing, served as MC for the final night. The ultimate winner, Togal.AI, provides AI-powered estimation software for the construction industry.
What aspects of eMerge Americas stood out?
PM: As one of the largest startup conferences in the Southeast, the expo floor was vast, with booths set up to meet and interact with the startups presenting in the showcase. There were university and early-stage startups as well as much larger companies in the later stages of growth. I particularly enjoyed the range of keynote speakers, interviews, and fireside chats. There were iconic speakers that included Serena Williams, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Reddit Cofounder Alexis Ohanian, Blockchain.com Cofounder Peter Smith, and many others. Shark Tank's Kevin O'Leary not only gave a keynote address but also served as a judge for our Startup Showcase finals.
Why was it important for BIP Ventures to be a key partner in eMerge Americas?
PM: Miami is rapidly rising as a national tech hotspot and eMerge Americas is one of the moving forces behind that. As one of the largest venture investors in the Southeast, it's logical for us to take a meaningful role in the conference.
DD: Being part of what's currently going on in Miami and South Florida is key to Panoramic's investment strategy, which is to invest in diverse leaders and diverse companies based outside of traditional innovation centers in the Northeast and San Francisco Bay Area. We have seen a massive acceleration of capital and tech talent streaming into Miami.
Aside from Togal.AI, does Panoramic have investments in other Florida-based companies?
PM: Upstream, which makes it easy to start and manage a Decentralized Autonomous Organization or DAO; Cryptoys, which brings digital toys to life on the blockchain; Defy Trends, an AI- and data-driven intelligence platform that helps investors confidently make crypto investment decisions; and Virtual Badge, mobile software that lets companies instantly issue or revoke virtual badges. Defy Trends and Virtual Badge are both previous winners of our monthly Startup Showdown pitch competitions.
DD: We've also co-invested with SoftBank Opportunity Fund in Miami-Dade County-based Lumu Technologies, a cybersecurity company that enables organizations to continuously measure and understand compromises to close the breach detection gap from months to minutes.
Any other takeaways from your eMerge Americas experience?
PM: Events such as eMerge Americas are a great way for investors to meet and network with promising companies that they might otherwise not be aware of. Since Panoramic's launch, we've been committed to breaking out of the traditional VC mold that limits access to those without a direct connection to investment circles. Having a key presence at events like eMerge Americas further broadens our accessibility to tech innovators.
DD: One thing especially evident was the diversity of technologies that had a presence at eMerge Americas. A lot of the tech ecosystems around the country tend to be stronger in one area than others — for example, New York is a great media city, and Nashville is a great healthcare city. While many of the Startup Showcase finalists are based in South Florida, there was still a wide range of technologies and industries represented. I found that to be exciting and great for the ecosystem there.
Remember that Startup Showdown will be back on May 26 with an in-person event in Austin, Texas! Pitch competitions take place monthly, so applications are always being accepted. If you'd like to reach out to Dustin or Paraj about eMerge Americas or our upcoming Startup Showdowns, connect with them at @dcdrees or @itsparaj on Twitter.