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How one local startup approached Buffalo's Venture Forum

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Daniel Robison
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WBFO
QuadPharma CEO Stephen Panaro presents at the 2012 Venture Forum. His company asked investors for $1 million.

The Venture Forum, Buffalo’s annual magnet for big dollar investors, offers western New York’s startups, like QuaDPharma, the best chance to see and be seen.

“A lot of people don’t know that we exist,” says Stephen Panaro, CEO of QuaDPharma.

QuaDPharma is a new kid on the block.

“So a forum like this allows me to reach out and just make people aware that we’re here, we’re in western New York, we offer services,” Panaro says.

Panaro was among dozens of promising local startups looking to make the best impression on Venture Forum investors. The goal: Land the funding that lets your company leapfrog the competition.

Following QuaDPharma

QuaDPharma offers pharmaceutical tests and provides supplies for research labs and clinics.

It rose from the ashes of a now-defunct local wing of pharmaceutical company CPL. Panaro and a handful of co-workers defected, took business with them and turned a profit in just one year.

Still, rubbing elbows with lawyers, investors and scientists at conferences like this is vital to the company’s growth.

Also, at the Venture Forum, Panaro will be in the hunt for money. While QuaDPharma is generating revenue, it needs an infusion of cash to offer new services, hire new folks and remain flexible if there’s a big expense.

Working the crowd

Panaro hobnobs for two straight days, passing out cards and collecting a stack himself. But the most important part is the 10 minutes he’ll get to command the attention of the entire gathering with a formal presentation.

Panaro is a little nervous.

He says his strength is one-on-one conversations - not formal presentations.

“I’m very much a shoot-from-the-hip guy,” he says.

Adding to his worries is his company’s PowerPoint presentation, which he admits needs work. So he runs it past some trusted bigwigs at the conference.

“They’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Panaro admits. “This potential investor and advisor ripped me a new one. It was the best possible thing he possibly could have done.

“He listed every thing that he saw wrong with it and said, ‘Prove me wrong.’ ”

During the formal presentation, Panaro tells the hundred or so in attendance that there aren’t many companies like QuaDPharma. His startup stands out by fillilng niches in the pharmaceutical market with personal, friendly service.

By performing a diversity of unique tasks for a spate of bigger companies, Panaro says, QuaDPharma has gotten its foot in the door.

“You can’t go to Big Pharma and say, ‘Hey, I want to manufacture your product, send it on over.’ You have to convince them and grow the relationship with them,” Panaro tells the crowd.

While not the sexiest startup, QuaDPharma has used this approach to become quickly profitable. They’ve built modern facilities and have booked $2 million in new contracts this year alone.

But Panaro tells the crowd that QuaDPharma still needs a boost to get to the next level.

“We’re looking for approximately $1 million,” Panaro says. “It’s somewhat negotiable and flexible, of course. If you want to give more, that’s always good.”

Waiting in the wings

While QuaDPharma was getting its time in the spotlight, there were 30 other companies at the forum competing for attention.

Now Panaro must translate any interest he generated at the event into leads, new business and - critically - investment.

He says it all comes down to one thing.

“Follow-up. It’s all about follow-up,” Panaro says.

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