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DC public speaking startup nabs at least $50,000 even before leaving its incubator

Orate, the online marketplace that connects event organizers and public speakers that won Startup Weekend DC 2014 in April, winds up its first two weeks at The Startup Factory (TSF) accelerator in Durham, NC, today. Orate cofounders Sara Capra and Veronica Eklund are planning to return to D.C. when the 12-week program wraps up on November 14.

TSF will provide Orate $50,000 in seed funding, and at the end of the program, Capra and Eklund will be eligible for a convertible note of at least $20,000. Local VC Jonathon Perrelli has made a cash investment in Orate and is a company advisor.

"I invested in them prior to their joining TSF and I will continue to invest [in Orate]," Perrelli says. "It's a space ripe for disruption. There's no platform for finding speakers that democratized. I've already got people asking me if they can invest in Orate. They will do for speakers what blog[ging] does for writers."

Orate is a place for speakers and organizers of events to find one another. "We're addressing both sides of the marketplace," Capra says. Navigating traditional speakers' bureaus can be challenging and expensive. "We're bringing the speaker's bureau to the masses." The company is currently in "open beta," meaning a website is up with limited functionality.

Right now, it is free for both speakers and event organizers to list themselves on Orate. For speakers, Eklund "highly encourages people to put up a video of themselves. It's accessible and easy to do." Uploaded videos, along with the profile a speaker creates and links to a speaker's social media profiles, will help event organizers vet their choice of orator.

Eventually, as Orate builds more functionality into the platform, event organizers will "be able to do the entire booking process on our platform," Capra says. "From booking a speaker, paying them and getting feedback [about the experience]. We're all about convenience."

Filling last-minute speaking requests is another feature Orate plans to build into the platform. "It's not our primary focus," Capra says. But it will come in handy. An early idea for Orate came about when Capra, who was organizing a panel at SXSW for her employer, had a last-minute speaking cancellation. "I thought, 'What a great opportunity for young professionals like myself to build my brand. What other opportunities and tools are out there to alert people on the spot to last-minute cancellations?'"

Orate is hiring a software developer and will be "looking for marketing help later on."

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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