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Conferences mix business with hip-hop, pop

CNBC’s Jane Wells visits a business conference where hedge fund managers and investment bankers groove to Snoop Dogg.
/ Source: CNBC

Snoop Dogg and the Pussycat Dolls play to a lot of packed houses, but few of them are packed with fund managers and investment bankers.

Roth Capital Partners has been organizing conferences in Orange County, Calif., for years, hooking up small public companies with institutional investors. But the company likes to do things a little differently, says CEO Byron Roth: “That’s kind of the way we are as an investment banking firm,” he says.

How differently? Well, for two days company after company you may have never heard of make pitches to people with money in meetings. That’s followed up by one-on-one sessions.

But while it’s all “buttoned down” by day, things let loose at night, with CEO presentations making way for night-time entertainment that includes scantily-clad dancers and top music acts like Snoop Dogg and the Pussycat Dolls.

Roth went so far this year to entertain the fund managers and investment bankers that he completely recreated the Pussycat Dolls lounge at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for the evening entertainment at the conference venue in Monarch Beach, Calif.

Roth invites guests to attend these conferences for free, and the bill comes to about $2.5 million. They usually pay for themselves, he notes, but not every year: “In 2001 and 2002 we were kind of looking at ourselves and my two daughters were going to be the entertainment,” he joked.

The Orange County gatherings have gotten so much buzz in recent years that Roth is turning away people, and also trying to figure out how he can outdo himself the following year. But despite the entertainment, the conferences still have their investment value says attendee and small cap fund manager Mike Balkin. “It’s a great conference if you want to find that undiscovered name, and we really try to make our money finding these companies before other investors get to them,” he says.

The same is true for the companies that get discovered, says Natus Medical President and CEO Jim Hawkins: “We get so much exposure here to fund managers who come in and buy our stock and become long term shareholders,” he says.

With investment in China becoming increasingly important, veteran China watcher Don Straszheim’s made his first visit to the conference this year. In fact, he was so taken with Roth that he joined the firm as vice chairman. Dick Heckmann, chairman of sporting goods company K2, keeps coming back. His small cap firm provides skis to Olympians like Ted Ligety.

Last year, Roth hired the Black Eyed Peas to perform: “I would bet that 80 percent of [people here] have never heard of the Black Eyed Peas, unless they told their kids to turn it down,” Heckmann quipped.