Where Deals Get Done
Top venture capital fund managers and companies representing high-potential ventures converged at the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium.
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—For the 26th year in a row, the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS) May 15-16 put the spotlight on the Midwest's most promising technologies, sciences, alternative energy systems and emerging growth companies.
Presented by the Ross School of Business and its Center for Venture Capital & Private Equity Finance of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, this nationally attended, two-day symposium was the brainchild of David Brophy, professor of finance at the Ross School. The MGCS has only grown and continued to provide an opportunity for financiers to connect with up-and-coming Midwest businesses since its inception.
As one of the longest running programs of its kind, this year's symposium brought 400 attendees together, including investors from across the country, executives of early stage and emerging growth companies, and related stakeholders.
The MGCS is recognized as a key contributor to the region's economic growth and venture capital activity, providing peer-to-peer networking for VCs, a showcase of up-and-coming early stage ventures, and vital discussion of hot markets for investment.
MGCS 2007 featured keynote speakers Ram Shriram of Sherpalo Ventures and Richard Wong of Accel Partners, who each shared their stories of obstacles overcome and successes achieved. More than 65 investment firms were represented, along with 40 Midwestern companies seeking funding. Panel discussions were well attended and featured the insights of professionals at the highest levels. Some panel discussion highlights:
After Pfizer: What to do with all that intellectual property?
As part of a global move to reduce costs, Pfizer announced its decision in January to close three research facilities, eliminating more than 2,000 jobs in Michigan. The panel included James Bristol, former senior vice president at Pfizer Inc., who reflected on the implications and opportunities created by Pfizer's move.
Bristol said he believes that Pfizer's intellectual property could become available to entrepreneurial employees, though none have seemed to emerge with business plans in hand.
"My advice to people is to have a well thought-out plan that underscores the advantages to Pfizer as well as to the company when it comes to spinning off any of this,'' said Bristol, who retired from Pfizer in April.
Pfizer's previous policy regarding licensing of its technology was one of "zero interest," according to Bristol. However, with new CEO Jeff Kindler, he sees a growing willingness on the part of senior management to consider working with outside companies on research and development.
Mina Sooch, founder of Apjohn Ventures in Kalamazoo, asked Bristol what has to happen for Pfizer to come to the table with employees and venture capitalists to discuss intellectual property.
"We need to have a more transparent process to match people with ideas and the VCs,'' she said.
Time may be running out, as many Pfizer employees are accepting transfers and taking other jobs instead of starting businesses on their own. Bristol estimated that about 30 percent of Pfizer employees in Ann Arbor will relocate to the company's other sites.
Other expert panelists at the Pfizer session were:
--Roger Longman, managing partner, Windhover Information Inc.
--John Neis, managing director, Venture Investors LLC
--Michael Raymond, member, Dickinson Wright PLLC
--Ron Eastman, partner, Essex Woodlands Health Ventures
Technology-based startups garner attention
Startups and new technologies with growth potential pose great opportunities for investment dollars. Seasoned veterans of founding and investing in technology startups discussed emerging market trends and new technologies that address these markets and open new ones, and how they have successfully leveraged these changes to create successful start up companies. The panel was made up of individuals with many years of industry experience in software and semiconductors as they apply to networking, communications, wireless, security and data warehousing. They were:
--Bill Cook, CEO, Greenplum
--Michael Dager, CEO, Arxan
--David Hartmann, president, Arbor Blue LLC
--Jim Watson, managing director, CMEA Ventures
--Beau Laskey, general partner, EDF Ventures
In offering advice to new entrepreneurs, Watson of CMEA in San Francisco said, "I call them the two ships: leadership and relationships. You have to have the ability to hire and recruit the right people. Look for a well-balanced person and avoid the 'super star' egos," he said.
Regarding emerging technologies, Watson listed alternative energy systems, semiconductor and fuel cell production, biotech medical devices and wireless technology in developing countries as key.
Silicon Valley maverick Ram Shriram delivered the keynote address at the evening session May 15. Shriram, founder of Sherpalo Ventures, is a founding investor in Netscape, founder of Junglee, investor and executive in Amazon, and very early active investor in Google. He helps build firms based on breakthrough technology. With his knowledge and interest in Michigan, he talked about what companies need to do to create value from the opportunities now presenting themselves in this state. In his presentation, Shiram engaged in a question-and-answer session, honing in on lessons for Michigan from Ram's experience as a business builder in Silicon Valley.
Richard Wong of Accel Partners, a leading Silicon Valley venture firm, is an expert on mobile and broadband services software, as well as messaging and security applications. With significant entrepreneurial and general management experience, Wong focused his keynote remarks May 16 on the future of digital media and advertising. He offered perspective on early-stage, fast-growth wireless and messaging companies and highlighted the unique opportunities for growth in this technology sector in the Midwest.
Written by Nancy Davis
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