Photo: Kristy Campbell
While most venture capital goes to cities on the coasts, one of the most active seed investors in the country is based hundreds of miles from the bounding main. It’s Columbus, OH-based Rev1 Ventures, a nonprofit investor startup studio that combines capital and strategic services to help startups scale and corporations innovate. For the last five years it’s been the most active seed investor in the Midwest—not a bad record considering it’s just six years old.
Across its short history, Rev1 has funded 100 startups and generated an economic impact of $2 billion. In keeping with the region’s diverse economy, where no industry represents more than 10 percent of the corporate base, Rev1 supports startups in an array of industries, including healthcare, software IT, advanced manufacturing, and alternative energy. But it’s diverse in another way, boasting that half the companies it supports have diverse investors, founders, and/or leaders.
Flyover Future caught up with chief operating officer Kristy Campbell to learn more. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
How do Flyover Country entrepreneurs look different from the Silicon Valley stereotype?
Campbell: Innovators and entrepreneurs here are very focused on solving a problem that they’ve faced in their career. It’s not so much the really, really early-career, hoodie-wearing young founder who’s got a cool tech idea and is trying to make it stick. These are entrepreneurs who are solving really big problems that haven’t been solved before.
It sounds like they already know their customers.
Campbell: We’re really strong in preaching that you have to know your customer from day 1. If that’s the case, you don’t need a lot of money to build your first product, because your customers will pay for it. We focus on customer-first vs. a lot of ideas that may or may not fly in the market.
If your entrepreneurs aren’t hoodie-wearing techies, where do the tech skills come from?
Campbell: Usually they are a founder who understands their market but probably doesn’t have a really deep technical knowledge or ability to manage production codes. We oftentimes have to find technical co-founders.
Is tech talent hard to find in the region?
Campbell: Like a lot of large cities, there’s a technical talent gap. You have to end up robbing Peter to pay Paul. While we have quite a few large boot camps that are pumping out 100 or 150 new developers every year, most of those folks, at least in the beginning, end up going to a corporation that can pay them a lot more so it’s a little less risky for them.
Is it hard to attract VC to the heartland?
Campbell: When there’s heavy deal flow on the coasts, there’s not a huge need for those investors to go outside the region. But the good news is because the companies we’re working with have such a strong foundation from the ideation and concept stage, they are actually further along, which means they require less capital and are much more efficient in how they focus on their customers on day 1. Investors are really starting to take notice.
What are two great things about being located in Columbus?
Campbell: First, we’re very fortunate—and not all states have this—to have a state program that matches every dollar that we raise from the corporate community; that program is called the Ohio Third Frontier. Second, we’ve got a really connected community here. I think a lot of communities say that, but here it’s built into the overarching economic-development strategy.
For more information, visit www.rev1ventures.com.