Paul Singh and Dana Duncan have invested in about 1,700 companies since 2010. They are finding these investment-worthy opportunities in a way many aren’t. They’re going to the source.
And next week, that source will be Columbus. The duo are stopping in the capital city as part of their North American Tech Tour November 13-18.
The couple started angel investing in 2009 and after finding success, started raising venture funds in 2010, amassing 12 approximately $50 million funds over the next five years.
“The novel thing that we did wasn’t the number of investments we did, the novel thing we did is we just didn’t stay in Silicon Valley or New York or DC,” Singh says.
At the time most VCs weren’t traveling and the belief was that anything worth funding was in the Valley.
“We thought that’s ridiculous,” Singh says.
The market would change over the next five years. They went from one of the only microfunds, to being one of hundreds of registered venture capital firms. So at the end of 2015, the duo asked themselves, “Where are these investors not going right now?”
The answer was those places that are one to two flights away from the main hubs. Places like Columbus. The answer to how to logistically reach these cities came in the form of an Airstream and living in each city for about a week at a time.
Columbus will be the 40th city Singh and Duncan roll up to this year. It’s Singh’s second visit, the first being an in and out speaking engagement a few years ago. This time he’s excited to stay. To get a feel for the city. To see how it’s changed.
That longer stay also means a better connection with the community. Duncan says that when they have just a few hours to talk to a company, founders often have their guard up.
“When you are there the whole week, it’s interesting that you start to notice by day two, real conversations start to happen,” Duncan says.
Singh and Duncan will be setting up shop at Lumos, 172 E. State St. and serve as the finale to their 10-week accelerator program. While they will be working with the Lumos companies, the bigger picture is to connect with as many people as possible – investors, entrepreneurs, community leaders.
While Singh and Duncan are, of course, always looking for companies to invest in, the tour and their message is about more than that.
“The goal is to kind of kickstart a conversation about entrepreneurship,” Singh says.
A series of events open to the community will be held throughout the week and businesses can apply for office hours to chat with the investors. A schedule of the week’s events can be found here.
Singh explains that the tech in the tour title is a bit of a misnomer – they are willing to meet with more than just traditional tech companies. It is, again, more about entrepreneurship. In today’s world every business has some element of tech – even a plumber that might be using a smartphone to get leads online. Singh is more interested in inspiring business to find creative ways to use technology to better their enterprise.
Singh expects they are on the early edge of what will be several visits from venture capitalists over the next few years. He has an interesting perspective on the industry, visiting cities and hearing what local entrepreneurs and investors are struggling with, then heading back to his home base of Washington, D.C. and hearing the complaints of coastal investors. Singh says coastal investors are tired of going to the same demo day and say, “I know I need to be looking towards the Midwest or the interior of the country, I just don’t know where to start.”
They are trying to help by bringing other VCs along on their adventures and Ed Pizzarello will be joining the Columbus trip.
Will these traveling VCs help the lack of capital in Columbus? Singh says there isn’t really a lack of capital to begin with.
“Capital is not geographically constrained at all,” he says. “There is no shortage of capital in Columbus because capital is always searching for deal. Always.”
The question shouldn’t be why isn’t their capital in Columbus (and there is some, Drive Capital runs one of the largest funds outside the coasts), “The question local entrepreneurs should be asking is, ‘Why is my deal not good enough for somebody on the coasts to want to invest in it?'” Singh says.
Perhaps it’s in the pitch.
“Any time you raise money, you should want to raise money to grow the business, not to build the business,” Singh says.
It’s a subtle but important difference. I want money to be able to go full-time is not a reason for a VC.
“Investors want to invest in businesses not ideas,” Singh says. “I don’t care if you are talking to an investor, customer, anybody, if you find yourself talking about the product more than 50 percent of any meeting, nothing is going to happen, the deal is not going to happen.”
It all comes down to growth.
“Everything has to be about a growth story, what’s in it for the other person,” Singh says.
For more information on their time at Lumos, click here.
To learn more about Singh and Duncan, click here.
Read more on the state of venture capital in Ohio here.