Pitching for Management is run by @AngelNews , and is a regular haunt of mine. Today I went to Grant Thornton at Reading, except I didn’t. Well I did, but by mistake. If that sounds rather confusing, that’s because it was. The Reading event isn’t held in the Reading Grant Thornton – it’s held in the Winnersh Grant Thornton, which is fairly near Reading – but only by distance, not time. Due to utterly loathsome traffic, it’s a full hour to get into the centre of Reading and out again. So if you go to this event, remember it’s only called Reading, it’s not actually in Reading. This is a bit like London Luton airport, which may as well be in France.

After much faffing about, I arrived in the very attractive Grant Thornton premises, in the correct town. The event was much smaller than other events in the series, and this made me wonder about the promoter’s strategy. Wouldn’t it be better to focus efforts in larger cities? Reading is, after all, not so very far from London – and Angel News’ London events are packed to the gunwales. Personally, I’m not complaining, because these small events are far better to the audience. Let’s face it: do you want to be fighting to get to speak to the presenters, or have the chance for lots of idle chatter with no bustle or queues? Clearly the latter – and for me, the event was great. But it wasn’t only the intimate atmosphere which worked for me, but the excellent quality of the pitching firms. One of the approaches I’ve suggested to Angel News is to focus events on sectors. As luck would have it, this event was concentrated on the tech sector – which is my primary investment focus. That, as I say, was just luck – but attendees do have a little control. Fortunately, PfM release role information before the events, so if you’re particularly picky as to the events you attend, you can always be choosy. However, an open mind is a good asset in investment, so I wouldn’t recommend being too choosy.

Here were a few of the pitching firms:

Andy Molloy from Basingstoke Energy Services Cooperative was one of a number of similar firms I’ve seen. They aim to take advantage of the opportunity for micro-renewables which exists on the roofs of Britain. This is a nice idea, but sadly not one that’s immune to government meddling. Recent squabbling in the corridors of power has caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the renewables sector. Osborne’s attempt to rip up the renewables rule book was quashed in court by the efforts of Friends of the Earth – one of the UK’s premier non-governmental organisations. This means that the financial returns are back on track for now, but investors (whether sweat or cash) need to be wary – as they’re entering a sector that the Treasury has the knives out for.

Rupe Mann from KnowHowMart.com ( @knowhowmart ) is a novel approach to the experts-online model. Instead of keeping a focus on building new external-facing work for gurus of various ilks, this brand is all about helping larger firms track and manage internal expertise. They’re looking for a sales director to help them extend their reach beyond their existing client base with blue-chip consultancy. I’ve seen similar firms come and go, but this one looks like it has genuine promise. Finding and managing the wealth of internal expertise within such firms is key to their success. Furthermore, tracking who is actually contributing to the billable work in a corporate consultancy is a massive task, and any product which makes this easier is likely to find a clear commercial path into client businesses. This is fundamentally good news, and I can see this firm becoming a serious force in the market. Maybe you think that this is all a bit niche, but don’t forget that ‘boring’ software can be huge. Autonomy, for example, is a national success story. So watch this space.

Steffan Aquarone from Droplet ( @dropletpay )spoke about the firm’s entry into a very hot market. The world is waking up to the issue of mobile payments, and the smart money is fighting its way into this space. Someone is bound to win big. That’s great in one way, in that there’s a clear agreement that Droplet is onto something. However, there’s also something problematic here – in that startups in hot markets are necessarily competing with some big boys with big cheques. That can leave the plucky startup wielding a peashooter in a firefight, as they get outspent, out hired, and generally outgunned by their rivals. The huge levels of investment coming in to the sector can, however, mean that there’s a really good chance of getting picked up by high-spending VCs, and propelled into the stratosphere. For example, GoCardless is back on the London scene, having been through the Y-combinator mill – so this can really happen to businesses around here. Could Droplet be the next big thing? Not impossible. Their USP is the ‘pre-pay’ model, which allows them to earn from the interest on deposits, and that means they don’t need to charge directly for the service. I remain unconvinced that Droplet currently has a crucial edge to beat down the big guns in the market – but I could be surprised. Furthermore, a big funding round could give the brand the oomph it needs.

SalesOrder.com ( @salesorder_com ) is a SaaS (software as a service) business, which does what it says on the tin. It manages sales transactions, with a simple fee structure. Unusually, this is a business which is looking to concentrate on export first – a highly unconventional move. They were at Pitching for Management to seek personnel to help them access the Indian market. India may be far away, but it’s also big, rich, and well connected to the UK. Let’s face it, the BRICS are big news, and this firm’s bold approach is a sign of the times. One weakness of this pitch was that it was delivered by Skype. This can work well for time-strapped entrepreneurs, but the problem is not the pitch itself, but the networking. It’s much harder to form a real personal connection with someone you’ve not met face to face. The result is there can be a higher mountain to climb in getting to that special ‘click’ moment that makes it possible to do deals. In my own experience, it’s been a lot harder to make that link remotely. Pitching firms can seem fundamentally less open over Skype, and I can’t say it’s been easy to make real progress. My advice to firms is always to get in the room, where the subtleties of the audience’s ‘soft skills’ can be more fully appreciated. Britain’s not a large country, and you can work on a train. So it’s not a big deal to travel – and business works better when you do.

PfM events vary in price from around £25 for the rural dates, to around £40 for the flagship London monthly meet. The typical attendees are middle-aged men in grey suits, looking for a career shift, or part time project – but this is by no means universal. If you’re an activist investor, or just looking for an unusual job, you’d do a lot worse than attending.