Entrepreneur wants to help Charlotte tech and media startups land investors

Amish Shah, a local entrepreneur who founded high-growth tech recruiting firm Millennium Search, wants to give Charlotte tech and media startups an “unfair advantage” – mainly access to top-tier investors who can take them from seed to Series A funding, and beyond.

“It’s a platform,” he said. “You have access to us. We’re four dudes with a lot of experience and we want to help.”

Along with partners Glen Howard, Eric Kagan and Tony Potts, Shah pitched his own venture – SierraMaya360 – to a crowd of about 35 at the NC Music Factory last Wednesday, vowing to invest in promising Charlotte startups and help them develop relationships with major funding sources.

Getting access to top-tier investors flush with cash has been a consistent struggle for startups in Charlotte.

Shah told the crowd that scoring meetings with national-level venture capitalists, who focus their money on startups in New York, Boston, San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, isn’t as simple as sending an email or submitting an application.

“The odds of them talking to you are slim to none,” he said.

Enter SierraMaya360, a re-brand of Shah and Kagan’s early-stage startup investment firm Sierra Maya Ventures that includes two new partners, offices in Charlotte, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and an enhanced mission to promote a client’s startup in media and in front of tech-savvy investors.

Potts described the firm as an “octopus with 27 tentacles,” tapped into an expansive Rolodex of who’s who in technology and entertainment.

“Think of us as your web browser,” said Potts, a former television personality who hosted Access Hollywood for 12 years. He said “it’s only one call for me” to get a client on MSNBC, CNBC or Fox Business News. Potts said he’s connected startups with celebrity investors that include Jared Leto and Lady Gaga’s former manager, Troy Carter.

“VCs (venture capitalists) jump on the bandwagon,” he said. “We help startups create the bandwagon.”

On Wednesday, curious entrepreneurs asked the four investors what could be done to make the Queen City a venture capitalist treasure trove for up-and-coming startups. The answer: Continue attracting out-of-state talent, make sure there are good jobs to draw those people and invest in solid mentoring.

The old venture capitalist model is broken, said Howard, who has been involved with Silicon Valley tech companies since the 1980s and is co-founder of Hercules Technology Growth Capital Inc.

Historically, national-level venture capitalists don’t meet the owners of the startups they invest in. Howard wants to change that.

“It’s not just (about) money,” he said. “They need hands-on experience.”