Entering competitions increase your odds of being recruited, raising capital, or selling for more than $100M.

(Originally posted on March 22, 2016 on the LDV Capital Blog here.)

Every day, there are many hackathons, startup competitions, and events around the world with different styles, focuses, attendees, locations, and goals.

I invest in entrepreneurs at a very early stage and mentor many other entrepreneurs via accelerators such as 500, Seedcamp, Founders Institute and NYSeed. Entrepreneurs from different countries frequently ask if they should attend a conference or compete in a competition or a hackathon.

My question to them is always the following: Will that event help your reach your goals?

Events are great places to meet co-founders, clients, and investors. In addition to networking, competitions and hackathons are also great opportunities for you to prove your brilliance and skills with a prototype, algorithmic solutions to computer vision challenges, or visions for a new startup. Investors, co-founders, recruiters, and clients are always looking for the best people, and we all have the problem of filtering out the noise to find the high-quality signals. Surpassing other competitors to make the finals and possibly win is another valuable validation to help rise above the masses.

The worst thing you can do is sit behind your computer or in the audience and do nothing. It’s easy to say, “I had that idea years ago,” but maybe you didn’t do anything about it. Maybe you didn’t take a risk to prove yourself. If nobody knows, then it never happened — very similar to the fact that nobody can hear a tree fall in the forest unless you are watching it fall.

The key is to be sniper focused on attending and competing where it is most contextually relevant for you to have the highest impact in reaching your goals. If you are working in wearable devices, then you should go to the events that are focused in that sector. If you are working with photos, videos, computer vision, deep learning, artificial intelligence, satellite imaging, medical imaging, autonomous cars and anything with the visual web, then you should go to our LDV Vision Summit and compete in our competitions.

LDV Vision Summit 2015: 6 of the 8 companies that competed in our 2015 startup competition have since raised capital including StreetBees, PartPic, Entrupy, Stringr, The Smalls and Sphericam raised $450K on Kickstarter.

“We met Russell Glenister last year at The LDV Vision Summit who has since invested in The Smalls. The Summit has had a huge impact on our business which is now completely taking off! Anyone working in Visual Technologies should definitely compete and attend for the incredible networking opportunities with top-tier experts and investors.” Kate Tancred, CEO The Smalls.

“It was a great pleasure to introduce Streetbees — the world’s intelligence platform — to a distinguished jury at the LDV Vision Summit. Anyone working on a visual technology business should definitely apply to the Summit startup competition.” says Tugce Bulut, CEO of StreetBees.

Judges Awarded Me 3rd but I Personally Won” by Erik Erwitt.

Other fantastic outcomes by speakers at our 2015 Summit include Apple acquiring Emotient, Magic Leap raised ~$800M led by Alibaba, Ramp Media was acquired by Cxense, APX-Labs raised $13M led by NEA including GE Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, LDV Capital and Mapillary raised an $8M Series A led by Atomico including Sequoia, Playfair, Wellington and LDV Capital.

LDV Vision Summit 2014: At least 9 companies who presented either in a competition or as a speaker have since raised significant venture capital funding, and at least one was acquired. Check out the following examples: Magic Leap raised $542M, led by Google Ventures; Taboola raised $117M, led by Fidelity; Narrative raised $8M Series B, led by Khosla Ventures along with True Ventures, Passion Capital, LDV Capital; Placemeter raised $6M Series A, led by NEA; Neon Labs raised $4.1M Series A, led by Mohr Davidow; Mapillary raised $1.5M Seed, led by Sequoia along with Wellington, Playfair, LDV Capital, and angels; Seen.co raised $1.25M Seed From Horizons & KEC; Clarifai raised funding from Google Ventures, Qualcomm, Nvidia, LDV Capital, and angels; and Aviary sold to Adobe. I am sure that they are all looking to recruit great people, and they are expected to be in the audience at our next summit.

I often speak at conferences and am always amazed when people do not have questions in the audience, even though they all want the speakers, judges, and companies recruiting to know who they are. Silence gets nobody noticed. When there is silence during the question period after a presentation, I typically say, “The most intriguing and brilliant questions will inspire others to come find you and talk afterwards, but if you say nothing, then it’s impossible for the rest of us to know why you are brilliant.” After saying this to the audience, many more people ask start asking questions, and the serendipity gets more interesting for all involved.

Of course, not everybody will build a success story the first time they enter a competition, but you should think of each competition entered as one more step closer to your goals. Here are some exciting competition success stories.

Courtney wrote an article in September 2012 which said, “Sunrise co-founder Pierre Valade first hit the tech stratosphere with Agora, a service he built during a Foursquare hackathon in February 2011 that’s designed to connect you with like minded folk when you check in at a specific location.” Then he joined Foursquare and focused on Sunrise with his team, and about 3 years later, Microsoft acquired Sunrise for at least $100M.

Obviously, one cannot connect the dots to the success of Sunrise purely from competing at a hackathon, but that is how Pierre started working at Foursquare — and the rest is history. Overnight success stories do not actually occur overnight. Typically, it takes many roller coaster milestones that are connected into a line leading to success.

Another great hackathon success story is GroupMe. They launched at a Disrupt NY Hackathon and 370 days later sold to Skype for $85 million

Ramen won the Launch Hackathon in San Francisco. “That victory exposed Ramen to potential investors and customers and created a helpful amount of buzz,” said co-founder & CTO Angilly.

One of our LDV Capital portfolio companies, Clarifai, won the top 5 winning spots in the image classification task at the ImageNet Large Scale Visual Recognition competition. They have since raised funding from Google Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Nvidia, LDV Capital, and several top-tier angels.

Geoffrey Hinton and his team at the University of Toronto won the 2012 ImageNet competition, and about a year later, they were hired by Google. Some say this ImageNet milestone was widely regarded as the moment that deep learning broke through from the machine learning community into mainstream computer vision.

Carousell founders conceptualized their business at the 2012 Startup Weekend in Singapore and later raised $6M in funding led by Sequoia.

Zaarly was first built at a Startup Weekend competition in Los Angeles in 2011. They have since raised more than $15.1 million in funding. Of course funding is not the goal but a great means to help reach your goals.

There are many benefits of joining competitions, including meeting potential co-founders, meeting investors, and getting noticed by companies recruiting. A good resume is a great foundation, and there is exponential value in activities that help you get noticed, such as entering competitions, coordinating a challenge, and the serendipity of being at the right place at the right time.

Genevieve Patterson is a computer vision PhD candidate at Dartmouth, and she helped organize our LDV Vision Summit challenges last year. She said, “I found a great job at Clarifai from meeting the founder at the last LDV Vision Summit — I am very happy!”

Andy Parsons, CTO of Kontor and LDV Vision Summit judge, wrote, “I’m excited to see what the teams come up with [at the next summit]. And [I am] giddy thinking about the ‘Visually Immersive’ applications that are just around the corner. I expect to see lots of these at the summit, but more importantly, I’m jazzed to meet the people behind the code, creativity, and business ideas that are bringing them into our homes and pockets.”

Ankit Sharma is a computer vision graduate from the University of Florida. He said, “I am very happy I competed in the LDV Vision Summit Computer Vision Challenges 2014. I am actually collaborating with one contact from the summit on a shoe recognition app. I am speaking with another person from the summit to collaborate on new business leveraging image processing!”

Serge Belongie, professor at Cornell Tech and advisor to startups, recently wrote in Gearing up for the next LDV Vision Summit, “Recent years have seen a surge of startup companies using Computer Vision (Clarifai, Mapillary, Magic Leap, DeepMind, Jetpac) and a burst of interest on the part of established companies (Facebook, Google, Dropbox, Yahoo!) to recruit Computer Vision talent. The time is ripe to create opportunities to bring together the key players — the brilliant students and recent grads, investors, visionaries and practitioners — that fuel this emerging startup scene.”

Jan Erik Solem sold his last company Polar Rose to Apple. He founded his new company Mapillary, which recently announced $1.5M in funding led by Sequoia, and he presented at our last summit. He also wrote about his excitement by saying, “The result of mixing these people in one single event was amazing and resulted in investments, job offers, and lots of new connections.”

Our next LDV Vision Summit on May 24 & 25 in NYC will included over 80 international speakers with the purpose of exploring, understanding, and shaping the future of imaging and video in human communication. We will showcase the best startups and computer vision experts who compete in one of the following two competitions.

There is a traditional startup competition for any startup working with photos and videos who have raised less than $1.5M in funding.

There are also the exciting Entrepreneurial Computer Vision Challenges. This is the first competition ever to combine computer vision research challenges along with aspects of a traditional hackathon with APIs and SDKs. We are calling it the #LDVvisionHack, and competitors have two months to create solutions that impress their colleagues, companies that are recruiting, investors, and the judges. We hope that all levels of computer vision experts and enthusiasts will decide to compete. All finalists will receive remote and in-person coaching by Evan Nisselson, Serge Belongie, Jan Erik Solem, Rebecca Paoletti, Andy Parsons, and others.

LDV Vision Summit Judges 2016:

Josh Elman, Greylock

Jessi Hempel, Wired, Senior Writer

David Galvin, IBM Ventures, Watson Ecoystem

Evan Nisselson, LDV Capital, Partner

Jack Levin, CEO Ambrella

Jason Rosenthal, Lytro, CEO

Barin Nahvi Rovzar, Hearst, Exec. Dir., R&D & Strategy

Steve Schlafman, Principal, RRE Ventures

Alex Iskold, Managing Director, Techstars

Taylor Davidson, Unstructured Ventures

Justin Mitchell, Founding Partner, A# Capital

Serge Belongie — Professor, Cornell Tech, Computer Vision

Howard Morgan, First Round, Partner & Co-Founder

Gaile Gordon, Enlighted, Sr. Director, Technology

Devi Parikh, Virginia Tech, Assist. Professor, Computer Vision & AI

Jan Erik Solem — Mapillary, CEO

Larry Zitnick, Facebook, AI Research, Research Lead

Tamara Berg, UNC, Chapel Hill, Assist. Professor, Computer Vision

Ramesh Jain — Professor, U. California, Irvine, Co-Founder Krumbs

Nikhil Rasiwasia, Principal Scientist, Snapdeal

LDV Vision Summit Judges 2015:
Peter Welinder, Dropbox, Engineer. Sold Anchovi Labs > Dropbox

Julian Green, Google, Group PM Mobile Vision. Sold Jetpac > Google

David Beisel, NextView Partners, Co-Founder & Partner

Andrew Cleland, Comcast Ventures, Managing Director

Kristen Grauma, U. of Texas at Austin, Associate Professor

Fran Hauser, Rothenberg Ventures, Partner

Pete Warden, Google, Engineer, Sold Jetpac > Google

Andrea Frome, Google, Brain Group. Computer Vision, Machine Learning

Serge Belongie, Cornell NYC Tech, Professor, Computer Vision

Moshe Bercovich, Shutterfly, GM Israel, Sold Photoccino > Shutterfly

Alejandro Jaimes, Yahoo, Dir. Research/Video Product

Raquel Urtasun, University of Toronto, Assistant Professor

Jan Erik Solem, Mapillary, Co-Founder & CEO, Sold Polar Rose > Apple

We look forward to seeing you compete in the competitions and join us at the next LDV Vision Summit! The deadline to enter the competitions is March 31, 2017.

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