As the financial technology or FinTech catalyst at Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) Robert “RED” Daniel is constantly fielding and evaluating pitches from startup founders. It’s not that different than comedians doing live standup routines, he says.
In fact, it’s one reason he created Standups & Startups, a show for the startup community that aims to show — through humor — the parallels and lessons founders can learn from comics, such as stage presence.
“A critical element of any pitch is just having confidence in yourself,” says RED, who has done standup comedy himself. “Whether it is an investment pitch, gaining a new partner, or even attracting a key hire, the ability to have a confident, motivating, and tailored approach to the message is essential. I felt sure that the discipline of doing improv or standup would build the muscles and confidence needed to make them better speakers.”
A 2001 Georgia Tech graduate, RED worked for hedge funds and consulting firms in New York for 15 years before returning to Atlanta to take care of his mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. That period served as what he now sees as a “pause moment.”
“Caring for my mother until the end caused me to really examine my life and think about what I wanted to do with it,” he says. “When the opportunity came to mentor and coach the companies in payments and FinTech at ATDC, I just had to take it.”
ATDC has more than 150 entrepreneurial companies in its startup portfolio. As the incubator’s FinTech catalyst, RED coaches and supports the roughly 25 FinTech companies by working as an advisor and subject matter expert, guiding them on what they need to do to successfully launch, grow, and scale their innovative ideas. He also introduces his founders to the wider world of FinTech in metro Atlanta, presenting them to companies who may be interested in their product or solution.
“As a FinTech ambassador for Georgia, which I enjoy, I also work with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Fintech Atlanta, the Georgia Fintech Academy, and the Independent Community Bankers of America. Visa is the ATDC vertical sponsor for FinTech and we really appreciate their support,” he says.
The idea for Standups and Startups came to RED as he was speaking to about 30 Georgia Tech students about how to do a pitch for investors. “They were asking me, ‘how can I do it, how do I learn to handle tough, unforeseen questions,’” he says. RED had done stand up training in New York and knew that it had helped him enormously with confidence and timing in presentations. He also liked the idea of an exercise that would be fun for everyone.
“I wanted to do an event that was somewhat different. I knew from the beginning that the company founders should be the comedians,” he says. “They were the ones who needed the experience of improv.” RED quickly gathered four comedians, two of whom were founders, and held an event at Tech Square on Oct. 13, 2023 called “Standups & Startups – InnovATL 2023 Edition.” That inaugural show drew a crowd of 70.
RED is now running Standups & Startups as a business to help startups and their teams take a break and laugh once in a while, but also focus in on how comedy and improv can help entrepreneurs gain confidence and tell their story in a more effective manner.
There are four events being planned for Atlanta in 2024 and RED says the Charlotte startup community is also asking him to do an event there. “I think this idea can spread,” he says.
“Making use of Improv to help founders gain confidence makes them more likely to do a better job speaking off the cuff. Simply pausing or being more deliberate with words can be an enormous help,” RED says. “Better pitches lead to better results. I want the founders to become the best version of themselves.”