PR Pros on Startup Growth Impact, Community Trends

Lisa Astor

As we reflect on the first quarter of 2018, some interesting trends have started to evolve in the VC and startup communities. I took some time with my colleagues to dig into what markets are trending and how PR pros can better establish relationships with the movers and shakers in the VC community.

VC community

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What are some of the markets or industries you are seeing funded today?

Ryan Wallace, VP & GM, New York: Advanced Manufacturing is a critical industry. In fact, NYC is the number one market for 3D printing. Robotics, cybersecurity and health & life sciences are also burgeoning markets in New York right now.

Jennifer Malleo, VP & GM, San Francisco: I see money flowing into any company that’s got a security play, and lots of “middleware” brands, i.e., the companies that create the connections between other B2B businesses. Middleware has been a dirty word in PR, but the acquisition of MuleSoft, Twilio’s IPO, the much-anticipated Palantir IPO, and our own SF client roster tell a different story. These companies are printing cash and investors know it.

Katie Blair, VP & GM, Orlando: In the Southeast, the biggest opportunities are in the fintech, biotech, healthcare, martech and cybersecurity markets.

Lisa Astor, SVP & Co-Lead, Client Relations, Boston: Boston has always been a hub of innovation for healthcare IT and traditional data and security technologies. We’re also the home to robotics since the launch of iRobot and MIT’s significant investment in the space. And of course, biotech continues to be a cash cow with more than 1,000 biotech companies in Massachusetts.

How has this changed over the past few years? What are the next hot markets?

Wallace: Manufacturing in particular has started to grow and expand in “Industry City,” Brooklyn. Robotics has found a new home here as well. There is a real renaissance for manufacturing — from retail and apparel to biomedical to tech. It’s exciting to see this evolving in real time. We have seen heightened investment and significant deals closing in the New York market and, generally speaking, people are excited to see the cash flowing again in “Silicon Alley,” at a level we haven’t seen since 2015.

Malleo: I can tell you who it isn’t. First, apps are out of luck: They were the hottest funding sector up until a few years ago, and the money has dried up. SaaS-anything is also dead in the water because new entrants are now competing with established players. The industry that showed the most promise — fintech — has also fallen. Anything related to blockchain is super hot, and I expect it will stay that way for some time. Digital currencies are skyrocketing (overall) and VCs are falling over each other to get in on the underlying technology.

Trusted social networks, or even niche social networks, are another potential area of interest that have gotten some play. Facebook may be the sacrificial lamb in a much broader trend relating to the security of individual data — what they’re willing to share vs. pay for, and whether communities can and should be trusted or accountable to users.

Blair: I think we will continue to see growth in SaaS organizations. With a growing presence of Fortune500 companies located in the Southeast, B2B SaaS startups continue to attract large amounts of investor capital, commanding over $4.5 billion in more than 1,600 deals since 2012. Biotech/pharma and consumer technology also are growing sectors in the Southeast, with over $7 billion invested collectively, since 2012.

Astor: Advanced data analytics is the future of tech in Boston. Our great universities attract and retain a lot of talent and interest in technologies such as blockchain, IoT and big data. Data analytics and advanced manufacturing technologies will continue to grow as they are fueled by major tech brands funding innovation centers and labs across the city.

From an Integrated Marketing and PR perspective, are there particular strategies that play best to the VC communities and startups in your region? What tips do you have for PR pros?

Wallace: PR pros should try to connect with their counterparts at VCs to identify market needs and understand their local marketplace. Connect with your communication counterparts at the leading investment firms that are shaping the stories and the markets. To get in at the startup level and reach the “next big thing” you need to network and form relationships with the VCs. Become a player in the VC community, not just an observer. And to reach the investment community, we need to talk to VCs in their language through contributed content that 1) establishes the business impact your client can have and 2) spotlights the unseen financial benefits of your solution to investors and customers.

Malleo: VCs in the Bay Area are PR savvy. If you want to win them over, send in your best people to talk to them. They probably have better media relationships than the best PR agencies. For startups looking to draw attention to their brands from the VC community, dial down the product rhetoric (that’s sales’ job) and make sure you’ve got a great story. Every VC and reporter has heard it all before — you’re not going to teach them anything new. But you can bring them around to a new way of thinking about your business if you have a solid story. You have to know why you matter to the world, what big problem you’re solving.

Blair: It’s an exciting time for the Southeast as opportunity is knocking. The majority of companies here are looking for ways to differentiate their products/solutions and compete on a national and global scale. Messaging and product positioning are paramount as many of these organizations may have never worked with a PR pro before and are looking to build visibility for their brand for the first time. It’s important to be aware that you will likely be starting at the ground level. For PR pros looking to break into the Southeast VC community, it all comes down to good old-fashioned networking. The Southeast is made up of tight-knit tech communities that support each other and thrive on two-way collaboration. Dust off those mingling chops and get to know your local tech and VC communities.

Astor: A big opportunity is to attend the wide range of tradeshows that Boston hosts, including the Cloud Foundry Summit, BIO, the Forbes Under 30 Summit and INBOUND, to name a few. The greater Boston area is also home to hubs of the major analyst firms, including Gartner and Forrester. There’s opportunities to network with these analysts who have their eyes on the trends and companies that are important in the local markets. When looking for opportunities to further establish your clients’ brands, our local reporters and influencers know these markets better than anyone and developing relationships with them is critical. In sum, 2018 is setting up to be an exciting year for investments and growth in the startup industry nationwide. We’ll be keeping a close watch on how things shake out and the ones to watch.

This post originally appeared in O'Dwyer's PR Magazine's May 2018 Communications and New Media issue, on page 20.

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