Silicon Valley's Startup Olympics

Looking into the future, pitch by pitch

I'm listening to a Britney Spears song through a bicycle helmet.  Believe it or not, this could be the next big thing to come from the Silicon valley.

Replace "American Idol's" recording contracts with stock options and multimillion dollar funding deals, and you have some idea what's going on at Microsoft's Bay Area headquarters this week.  Behind the scenes, would-be startup CEOs are nervously waiting to face off with Silicon Valley venture capitalists, pitching their idea of what the "next big thing" should be.

The location is almost as intimidating as Simon Cowell's scowl. There, amidst the stock millionaires, high-powered executives, and solar panels, the future of the tech industry has gathered to prove that it is, indeed, the future of the tech industry.  Which is why, along with the music player (from a company called TuneBug), we're hearing about iPhone app ideas, web 2.0 social hookups, and all sorts of ideas we think are crazy now, but that we'll likely use about nine months from now.

If the two-minute pitches go well, the moneyed folks can always go back into a lobby area strewn with displays on how this or that company will change the world.  It's always fun to see, and if you hang around the Valley long enough, you realize that some of the companies we all take for granted now were incubated in settings like this.

But for now, I duck back into the pitch room, where former professor-turned-entrepreneur David Porush is delivering his idea to a panel of three VCs.  His company is called "Mentor Nex," and it aims to bring companies and students together to speed the hiring process.  His pitch is quick, but the Q&A session is even faster.  Is that bad news?

Not necessarily, says Ken Elefant of Opus Capital.  Ken's one of the VCs getting all the attention today, and he says in a slow economy like this, guys like him are on the prowl.  Has he seen the New New Thing yet?  "No, but we invest in 7 or 8 companies a year, so we're looking."  Good news for startups.  Go ahead, hit me one more time.

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