) -- At first blush, the business model of new investment firm
appears like a lottery. All it takes is $5,000 and a dream.
Based in the innovation hotbed of Cambridge, Mass., the firm, launched last month, has a pay-to-play plan that works like this: As many as 100 startups each pay $5,000 to compete for a maximum $250,000 initial round of funding. The runner-up gets $50,000. The rest get feedback.
"This does not seem kosher," says Emily Mendell, vice president of the
National Venture Capital Association
, in an e-mail message, upon hearing about the firm. "Real angels would never do this."
Founder and Chief Executive Officer Chris Hurley says
offers novice entrepreneurs a shot at financing as well as advisory services at a time when they're hard-pressed to find funding through traditional routes.
"If you're a first-time entrepreneur or an early-stage company, there are a lot of challenges to get investments," says Hurley, who previously worked in corporate development at
. "You can spend a lot of time chasing your tail, and with an early-stage company, time is money."
No argument there. For starters, even bank loans are hard to come by, thanks, in part, to the downfall of
. And while total venture funding increased 17% to $4.8 billion in the third quarter from a year earlier, first-time financing fell 20% to $633 million, according to the quarterly MoneyTree Report from
and the NVCA. That's the least amount for first-time deals in the survey's history.