Responding to a popular request, we are now sharing transcripts of our investor podcast interviews in this new series. The following interview with Bill Bice was recorded in April 2019.
Bill Bice, Partner at Verge Fund, discusses New Mexico’s startup ecosystem and his fund’s activities in that region.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by getting acquainted and also introducing you to our audience. Let’s learn about Verge Fund. Tell us about yourself. What is your investment thesis? What are the preferences? How big is the fund?
Bill Bice: I’ve learned a lot by listening to your podcast and I really like what you are doing. We have a lot of common philosophy. I really feel like I was born an entrepreneur. I’m just like Bill Gates. I dropped out of college to start a software company in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The difference is, Gates struck out of Harvard and I dropped out of University of New Mexico. The reason he and Allen were in Albuquerque is because this is where the first personal computer was invented. I created a company called ProLaw Software. It’s an ERP software for law firms.
At the age of 18, I thought I knew it all. It took a long time to figure out how to build a company. I had a great team and figured out how to do that. This is a company that we built purely through bootstrapping. We sold it to the 800-pound gorilla of the legal market, which is now a division of Thomson Reuters.
That’s where I fell in love with the vertical market approach. I built three more divisions or companies within the legal market since then. What we really focus on are opportunities that come out of this unique region that we’re in. It’s really an emerging market. It has the benefit of the US legal system and has huge opportunities.
We’ve got $7 billion in R&D every year. We have the two largest national labs. We’ve got several major research universities and all the technical infrastructure and companies that support all of those entities. There’s not nearly enough commercialization happening.
Even if you take out the $2.5 billion, that still leaves a tremendous amount of R&D and not nearly enough activity of taking that to market. What’s missing here are the entrepreneurs not knowing how to do that and the capital to support in doing so.
Sramana Mitra: Very interesting. The context that you just set to position New Mexico as a green field innovation opportunity is very interesting. What about the nature of the types of companies that you see there? Is it different in any way because of the kinds of research labs that are in that geography?
Bill Bice: Our focus has been geography-driven. We don’t have a sector or investment thesis driven by a particular view of the market. We’re really leveraging this unique opportunity. What we’re focused on are the things that come out of that environment.
There’s a tremendous amount of companies from life sciences and SaaS. There’s an area that we work in that we call human factors. It’s non-regulated life sciences. It is a science-driven area. I can give you some specific examples of companies that really represent that.