SXSW V2V: Entrepreneurs' investment dilemma

Source: SXSW V2V

South by Southwest has spun off its famous Austin conference, launching a smaller gathering in Las Vegas this week called V2V centered on entrepreneurs and investors.

SXSW is purposely vague in explaining what V2V stands for, saying that it could be Visionaires to Vegas, Vision to Venture or Venture to Vegas. But the conference's has two clear aims: to help entrepreneurs navigate their often-contentious relationship with investors and to build start-up communities around the country.

Someone has an idea; someone has money. How entrepreneurs manage that relationship can mean the difference between success and failure. That's why a number of panels and speakers are addressing that topic.

Idea people and money people are often at odds: Start-ups need capital but are wary of giving up too much control, and investors want the biggest slice at the least risk.

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Thomas Knoll of ClippPR, a start-up that provides tools to public relations agencies, said the relationship can be perilous. "If you're always trying to beat the other person and get the best value or the best valuation," he said, "then you don't have each other's best interests' in mind."

VegasTechFund partner Andy White advised looking for a long-term relationship with individuals. "It's all about the team and their ability to execute on their passion for solving that customer problem."

There's more pressure than ever, because venture capital isn't flowing as freely anymore. Such investment slipped about 7.5 percent in the first half of this year, after dropping about 10 percent last year.

One approach is connecting entrepreneurs with investors who bring more than money to the table.

"It's a partnership and you're looking for a relationship where they can add strategic advice, that they look at as a true relationship that has mutual benefits," said David Rush, CEO of Earshot.

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The other major topic is how to foster entrepreneurial communities nationwide, outside the hotbeds of New York, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Boston. SXSW V2V is in Las Vegas is because the city is making a big push to become an entrepreneurial hub.

Driving the rise of "Silicon Strip," as it's nicknamed, is Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He's investing $350 million into his Downtown Project and moving Zappos from Henderson, Nev., to Las Vegas by year-end.

Hsieh already knows the benefits of doing business in the state (no personal income tax) and the advantages he sees in the city center are attracting a growing group of investors and entrepreneurs.

"if we're coding until 1 a.m., when we walk out the door we can go have breakfast," said ClippPR's Knoll. "We can go and play put-put, we can go bowling, we can have Mexican, we can have sushi. Whatever we need we can get 24 hours around the clock, so that's really good for the start-up lifestyle."

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Start-up communities are popping up in different places and drawing VC dollars. Austin got the eighth-highest amount of such financing last year—$626 million, according to the Martin Prosperity Institute. It was followed by Chicago, with $547 million; Washington, with nearly $500 million; Philadelphia, with about $350 million; and Denver, with more than $260 million.

Though Las Vegas didn't make the list of the 20 most-funded cities last year, it has a number of the key ingredients for a start-up community to take off, including local VC firms and angel investors, a low cost of living, and universities and big companies nearby to provide talent.

Many entrepreneurs we spoke to prefer to be out of the Silicon Valley pressure cooler.

"It's a big pond with a small feel, and so there's still a lot of collaboration and community working together," said White at VegasTechFund. "You don't have that built up infrastructure from that long history, and you can make a difference as an individual as this infrastructure's being built."

—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: @JBoorstin