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Larry Kestelman’s Oxygen Ventures is looking for a start-up to breathe $5 million into with The Big Pitch


Oxygen Ventures, the venture capital firm founded by successful serial entrepreneur Larry Kestelman, is putting up $5 million for The Big Pitch, a start-up pitching competition.

You may remember Kestelman from such companies as the internet service provider Dodo, where he was the founder, and Eftel. Last year, he sold Dodo, Eftel to M2 Telecommunications. He raked in a whopping $250 million from the sale.

The Oxygen Ventures portfolio currently includes Silicon Valley-based Saisei, and Melbourne start-ups Newsmodo, Roamgem and activitystream.io. Investment director Ilya Frolov revealed that the firm has a treasury of up to $50 million to invest.

What kind of start-up is The Big Pitch looking for?

The Big Pitch is looking for technology start-ups that are both sellable and globally scalable, be it in the consumer or B2B space. Even start-ups that need a full technical build are welcome as long the idea is disruptive enough.

Frolov says the event is intended to create a buzz.  “We want to make a bit of a splash in the start-up ecosystem to say ‘hey, we’re out here, we’ve got some funds, and we’re looking for innovative and disruptive companies to invest in’.”

How will The Big Pitch work?

After assessment and due diligence, the submitted pitches will be whittled down to a shortlist of five finalists. Then come 17 June, it will be show time!

Each finalist will do a 10-minute pitch and face a Q&A session in front of a live audience at an evening event at Deakin Edge, Federation Square in Melbourne. Kestelman and a select panel of experts will judge the finalists and announce the winner on the night.

Technology venture firm Blue Chilli is the event partner.

What do start-ups stand to gain from The Big Pitch?

The winning start-up will receive up to $5 million in funding from Oxygen Ventures, plus hands-on operational support in return for a share of equity.

Frolov acknowledges that the $5 million prize up for grabs might be too much for very early-stage start-ups. He says the amount of funding and corresponding equity will depend on the particular start-up in question.

 “We’re very conscious of saying ‘up to $5 million’ and we understand every start-up requires a different amount of capital,” Frolov says. “Very embryonic businesses that require a lot of funding and resources will probably end up taking a lot more equity than businesses that have got some traction and are using it for growth.”

Everyone could be a winner

Blue Chilli chief executive Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, who is one of the judges, says regardless of who walks away with the five million bucks, all five finalists stand to gain.

He points to the media exposure the finalists will get as well as the fact that some of the VIPs in the audience on that evening will be personal and institutional investors who might get interested in working with some of the start-ups in the future.

In fact, there is a possibility of Oxygen Ventures funding all five finalists.

“We will be speaking closely to all the finalists and potentially they might all get funded,” Frolov says. “There will be a winner on the night but if they’re within our mandate and the terms are acceptable to all sides, the other four might end up getting funded too, but that would be post event.”

Applying for The Big Pitch closes on June 5.