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Seed Capital: Mark Solon, Co-Founder And Managing Partner, Highway 12 Ventures — Boise, Idaho (Part 4)

Posted on Tuesday, Mar 22nd 2011

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold

Mark: It’s never too early for an entrepreneur to come and spend time with us. We have an open door. That’s what we love to do. We’re in this business because we love working with any type of entrepreneur.

As long as you’re attempting to build a business that’s going after a sizable market with a unique approach, we want to get to know you, if you’re in this region.

Irina: What is the best ways to reach you?

Mark: If you’re an entrepreneur in the region, it’s easy to reach us. All of the service providers and many of the entrepreneurs in the region know us. They know who we’re friends with.

If somebody sends us a business plan over the transom, it’s not going to carry the same weight as – I know entrepreneurs may bristle at that – but it’s not going to carry the same weight as somebody we know in our network saying, “Hey, I know of this entrepreneur. He’s working on an interesting idea. Will you have a meeting with him?”

It carries more weight if it happens that way versus just receiving an e-mail from somebody we’ve never met.

On the other hand, if any entrepreneur in the region wants to spend 15 to 20 minutes with me, getting to know me, I do that every last Friday of the month. I sit in a coffee shop here in Boise, and I meet with entrepreneurs, one after another, just get to know them.

When I go to other cities, I try and do the same thing. You never know. I’m a big believer in karma. If we can help entrepreneurs along the way, even if we don’t invest, that’s going to come back to us.

That’s more about a life philosophy than a venture philosophy. I’m a big cheerleader of entrepreneurs in the region. I’m the chairman of the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association. If we can do something to help an entrepreneur in the region, we’ll go out of our way to do it.

Irina: What do you do to help?

Mark: There is a handful of ways we try and help. All three of my partners, Phil [Reed], George [Mulhern], and Glen [Michael], were operators in their careers, prior to becoming investors. I’m the only one who’s been in finance my entire career.

Between the four of us, we’ve seen hundreds of companies come and go. With early-stage companies, there’s a certain pattern recognition. I think, more than anything, we can help entrepreneurs avoid some classic mistakes. When you’ve seen companies scale and [their] mistakes, there’s just a natural amount of guidance you can give from experience.

On a regular basis, we receive many resumes from people in the region, such as vice presidents of marketing, CEOs, and CFOs, and I think we can be a great help in recruiting for startups. As I said, we know where the talent is coming and going from startups to exits. Who’s available? Who’s on the sidelines? Among my four partners and I, we have been very helpful in recruiting talent to our portfolio companies.

Then, there’s a list of intangibles, like introducing portfolio companies to potential companies, partnerships, introducing them to other venture firms for follow-on rounds of capital.

Because we’re not vertically focused investors, we’re not going to know more about a market than the entrepreneurs we’re backing. If you go to some investors, they’ve spent their entire careers in one sector. They invest only in one sector. Quite frankly, if it’s that important, than they might be better investors for [the entrepreneur] than we are.

If you’re an entrepreneur here in this region, there’s an awful lot we can do, including access to vertically-focused capital that can be a real asset to an entrepreneur.

Irina: What is the minimum size of the market you might be interested in?

Mark: That’s a hard question to answer. Because of the nature of venture investing, all of the investments we’ve made, we’ve believed, at the beginning that the company can probably reach a minimum of $100 million a year in sales. If a company doesn’t have the opportunity to reach that stage, it’s probably not a big enough opportunity for us.

That’s just math. Just because the opportunity is big enough, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get there.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Seed Capital: Mark Solon, Co-Founder And Managing Partner, Highway 12 Ventures -- Boise, Idaho
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