In a handful of hotel meeting rooms in Baltimore this week, 50 of the mid-Atlantic area's smartest young companies will be tossed to the mercies of 250 of the nation's biggest venture capital checkbooks. And the organizers of Venture Fair 91, which opens tomorrow at Stouffer's Inner Harbor hotel, are waiting as anxiously as a matchmaker from "Fiddler on the Roof."
"The purpose of the fair is to have 50 venture-capital-backed companies present their business plan, and the hope is to draw venture investment from all over the country into the mid-Atlantic region," said James T. Caulfield, a Venture Fair organizer who is also a partner at the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand in Baltimore.
The 50 companies will be trying to impress an audience of about 250, most of them representing venture capital firms, said Frank Adams, president of Timonium-based Grotech Partners L.P., itself a venture capital firm.
"These will be the premier venture capitalists from around the country," Mr. Adams said. "They conservatively represent several billion dollars of invested capital."
The fair is scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday as part of the Greater Baltimore Committee's 2nd Annual High Tech Assembly. Organizers have changed a few things, but they say last year's fair helped small companies raise big bucks, and they hope that won't change.
"The results of last year's fair have proved" that the approach works, Mr. Caulfield said. "We tracked the financing of companies at our fair and the Philadelphia fair and found that there was $200 million in equity investment."
Three companies that made presentations at last year's fair later went public -- Integrated Health Services Inc. of Hunt Valley, MicroProse Software Inc. of Hunt Valley and Genetic Therapy Inc. of Gaithersburg, said Mr. Adams, whose firm had invested in MicroProse Inc. at an earlier stage.
Despite last year's successes, there have been changes. First, there is a lower percentage of Maryland-based companies among the presenters, because the fair joined forces with a group of Philadelphia-area venture capitalists who used to run their own fair. The joint fair will be held in Philadelphia next year and will alternate between the cities each year after that.
"We think the fairs should join together because [the companies presenting] are competing in a national or international marketplace," said John C. Weiss, managing director of the state-backed Maryland Venture Capital Trust.
Second, this year's fair isn't quite as heavy on technology development companies trying to develop either new machines or new medical treatments. "It wasn't deliberate," Mr. Adams said. "Last year, we had a number of [high-tech] companies that got financing. Now we're seeing services and low-tech companies come into the market for financing."
"A lot of technology companies that have been financed over the last few years are doing just fine," Mr. Weiss said. "The venture capital community isn't technology-focused. It's growth-focused."