Conference lets entrepreneurs pitch their ideas

A month of preparation came down to a 12-minute presentation Thursday for David Kirkwood and Mark Adams.

Kirkwood and Adams, the top officials of Valley Center-based Aero Innovative Research, were among leaders from 14 companies selected to pitch their companies to an audience of 75 venture capitalists attending the Great Plains Capital Conference at the Wichita Marriott.

Adams, the company's CEO, and Kirkwood, vice president of the company that builds ultralight wheelchairs, said they were hoping to come out of the conference with a "couple hundred thousand" dollars in investment.

"We want to expand our sales and marketing," Adams said.

Specifically the money would be used to "strategically" place marketers around the country to provide training on its wheelchairs at Veterans Administration hospitals. Earlier this year, Aero got a contract with the Veterans Administration to provide wheelchairs to eligible veterans through the VA's prosthetics department.

"To be able to present here is a huge accomplishment," Adams said.

This is the seventh year for the conference, which is organized by the Wichita Technology Corp. The daylong event included a lunch presentation by entrepreneur and author Rob Adams and a national investment and technology briefing. Panelists included Cliff Reeves of Microsoft's emerging business team and Laura Kilcrease of venture capital firm Triton Ventures. Also in attendance at the conference were officials from the Kansas Bioscience Authority and the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp.

Trish Brasted, CEO of Wichita Technology Corp., said GPCC had one of its strongest showings yet in terms of venture capitalists.

"We have a really good audience," Brasted said.

Overall attendance at the conference was 150, she said.

One of the venture capitalists attending was Steven St. Peter from MPM Capital in Boston.

MPM was one of eight venture capital firms selected by the KBA to tap a $50 million fund to invest in bioscience startups in the state. In return for access to the fund, the firms have agreed to set up offices in Kansas and bring their own venture capital to invest in Kansas startups.

St. Peter, who grew up in Wichita, said this was his first time attending GPCC.

He was paying close attention to the life sciences companies that were presenting.

"Those companies, although early (stage), are impressive," said St. Peter, a managing director of MPM. "We've been watching (some of) these companies for several years, and they are clearly making progress."