It has been six years since Dennis Pape launched his VentureScaleUp accelerator program in downtown Orlando but it would not be a stretch to say that this one has been the most challenging.
Pape had to reschedule his 12-week mentorship program from April 2020, then again from the fall, as he tried to navigate the global coronavirus pandemic.
Perhaps it would have been easier to take the program virtual.
But, to Pape, that would defeat the purpose of his program, which mentors young companies and works to build Orlando’s tech startup ecosystem.
“We bring in entrepreneurs who have gone through the same process,” he said. “It’s all about peer-to-peer interactions and we didn’t run during the pandemic because we wanted to get people interacting. We didn’t think it would work virtually.”
Less than three months after it launched, the five businesses that participated in VentureScaleUp will meet the public Tuesday, both in person and virtually.
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VentureScaleUp’s Demo Day will take place at Pipeline Coworking and Shared Office Space, 20 N. Orange Ave., Suite 1100, in downtown Orlando.
The showcase, which Pape previously had run out of his now-shuttered coworking space Catalyst, will be the seventh that he has overseen.
“We need to get back to having in-person events,” Pape said. “They have been really missed over the last 18 months. That has been a major problem. It’s where we make all of our connections.”
Pape said the greatest benefits of in-person events are the ability to build a community and momentum, along with making connections that sometimes turn into business opportunities.
“You can say, ‘This is where I am but I need some help,’ and they’ll respond with, ‘Oh, yeah, I know somebody,’” he said. “That’s highly important.”
The 12-week program offered multiple options for the startups, which operate in industries like liquid cooling products for computers and a fintech firm offering an investment portal.
Pape, who estimates that half of the people in the companies attended sessions in person, recruited some hard-hitting figures of Orlando’s tech community.
Longtime Orlando investor Richard Fox joined Pape to put the program together, which featured others like former Channel Intelligence CEO and President Rob White.
NanoPhotonica Founder and CEO Chris Morton has also been involved.
“It’s a way for them to see that, hey, other people have done this in Orlando so there is help,” Pape said. “It gives you the thought that this could possibly happen for you. If you don’t have that, then it’s very tough. I attribute my success to all of the help that I got and I recognize how important that is. I want to be part of helping entrepreneurs.”