Sunup was supposedly 15 minutes ago, but it's still dark outside when the venture forum meets.
Beneath the 16-foot ceilings of the Buffalo Club, entrepreneurs looking for seed money face a roomful of dark suits and a fusillade of skeptical questions.
But the atmosphere at these meetings of the Western New York Venture Association is on a warming trend, investors and venture capital managers said at Wednesday morning's event.
After a deep chill in the investment climate nationwide, Buffalo-area funds are working with fresh pools of money and perhaps a renewed confidence as well.
"I think we're back to a less speculative, more of a show-me mentality," said senior analyst Brian Bell of Seed Capital Partners in Buffalo.
The Softbank-backed venture group expects to close a deal shortly for a new fund larger than its previous pot of $40 million, he said.
"We're out there raising our next fund," Bell said. Based in Buffalo, Seed Capital includes executives from Microsoft and Yahoo! among its backers.
Rand Capital, another investor in local ventures, recently saw its assets double to $18 million when its investment in an Ithaca technology company panned out. Pete Grum, president of the fund, said the windfall gives Rand the ability to invest more second-stage money in its current stable as well as to take on new ventures.
Representatives of Summer Street Capital Partners were also at the venture forum eyeing prospective investments. The new group will have completed $100 million in fundraising next month and will turn its attention to writing checks, managing partner Michael P. McQueeney said.
"We're working on a lot of opportunities right now," he said. Backed partly from state retirement program funds, Summer Street focuses on second-stage investments in New York companies.
The bearish plunge in the stock market last year sent individual investors diving for cover. Many wealthy "angel" investors haven't recovered from the burns they took in the tech stock meltdown, area financial advisers say.
The hopeful entrepreneurs at the venture forum tried to be sensitive to investors' pain.
"We know money's tight," said Larry Miller, co-founder of an online marketing firm called Vertical Grocer. The venture, brainchild of three University at Buffalo students, is looking for $339,000 to get an Internet grocery marketing venture off the ground. It will solicit investments from grocery chains to spread the risks, Miller explained.
"We've been told not to get our hopes up too high, because of the investment climate," said his colleague in the venture, Kristen Maher. Getting chains to sign on to the idea -- which leverages their shopper club data into new sales -- should help attract venture capital, she said.
Triad Marketing, another venture spawned by UB that presented at the forum, already has willing capital sources, founder Eric Reich said.
"Everyone wants to give us money now," he said, both angels and managed funds. The venture, which has a new idea for on-campus market research, hopes that its would-be backers will wait until Triad is ready to ramp up, Reich said.
"For a good idea there are probably always investors," he said.