A Madison venture capital investor says Wisconsin’s investment landscape could be greatly improved by funds co-investing with larger out-of-state firms.
Andy Walker (pictured here) is a partner with Rock River Capital Partners, a Badger Fund of Funds recipient that announced its first investment near the end of 2018 after raising a $23 million fund.
“I want to make sure we’re not being insular as a state and insular as a fund,” Walker told WisBusiness.com. “We partner with everybody in the state, but we also really want to bring capital in from out of state — in our last deal, we brought it in from out of country.”
With their first investment, Walker and fellow partner Chris Eckstrom backed a Madison startup called Gravy, an ecommerce platform for shopping over mobile phones. In the same round, Gravy landed an investment from MSA Capital, a $1 billion Beijing investment firm.
“We love co-investing with other funds that ideally have even bigger pools of capital than us,” Walker said.
He says these funds can bring more to the table in some respects, by adding a board member or leveraging other resources.
“If every fund like ours was bringing in co-investors from outside of the state, I think the amount of capital flowing in and out of the state would be disproportionate to the size we are,” he said.
Eckstrom says Wisconsin’s investment firms already have great rapport with one another in terms of sharing and syndicating deals. He points to the state’s “great angel community,” which helps the earliest-stage startups get their wings. And even with larger funds like 4490 Ventures and Venture Investors, “we’re constantly sharing information up and down the spectrum.”
Both Walker and Eckstrom grew up in Wisconsin, and graduated from UW-Madison. As a computer science major graduating in 2002, Walker says he didn’t see “a ton of opportunities” in the state’s tech scene at the time.
“We’ve made leaps and bounds since then,” he said.
Still, when Walker looks at the progress Chicago’s tech and investment community has made in the past 10 years, he feels that Wisconsin may be falling behind its potential.
“Chicago has benefitted from some unicorn exits, which we haven’t yet,” Eckstrom said, using a term that usually describes privately-held startups valued at over $1 billion. “We’ve created unicorns, but they haven’t necessarily been exits — Epic is one of them.”
Walker adds: “We need some larger exits and more exits to prime the pump and get things going.”
Listen to a podcast with Walker and Eckstrom: http://wisbusiness.com/index.iml?Article=393350
–By Alex Moe