Weekly Meeting - July 24: Ann Arbor, An Epicenter of the Innovation Economy

Speaker: Christopher L. Rizik is Chief Executive Officer and Fund Manager of Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, which he founded here in Ann Arbor in 2008. Renaissance is as much of an innovation as the start-up companies in which it invests: a network fund formed by a consortium of Fortune 1000 corporations. In addition to itself investing in rounds of financing, Renaissance strategically connects venture capital funds and start-up companies with major corporations.  Rizik also has chaired the Executive Committee of the high tech accelerator TechTown since 2011 and and is a member of the National Advisory Board of the University of Michigan Office of Technology Transfer

Prior to forming Renaissance, Rizik teamed up with Rick Snyder to co-found Ardesta, an industry accelerator dedicated to the development of microsystems and other small technologies, and served as its Chairman from 2000 to 2015. He and Snyder previously had co-founded Avalon Investments in 1999; its $100 million capitalization made it Michigan’s largest venture capital firm at the time. A 1986 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Rizik was a senior partner at Dickinson Wright before starting Avalon. He led the firm’s Emerging Company department and was instrumental in the negotiation and closing of investments in numerous companies, including several that were started following successful technology transfer from universities. 

With three decades of experience in technology, finance and law, Rizik has played a principal role in dozens of multi-million dollar venture capital transactions. For instance, in 2007, Avalon received the Deal of the Year Award from the Michigan Venture Capital Association for the return on investment it realized when Wisconsin-based TomoTherapy which went public in a $233 million offering that meant a return of more than 20 times for Avalon’s limited partners. Avalon also invested $2.5 million in Esperion Therapeutics, which returned more than 10 times that investment when it was sold to Pfizer.

Rizik has been recognized by Crain’s Detroit Business as instrumental in seeding efforts to diversify the Michigan economy during the implosion that followed the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.

In December 2008,  Renaissance raised a $40 million fund from investors despite the deep freeze in credit markets.  It promptly made its own investment of $5 million in a venture capital fund being raised by Ann Arbor-based Arboretum Ventures. In August 2009, Renaissance invested $4 million in Ann Arbor-based RPM Ventures; RPM in turn focused its own venture capital lens on software companies whose technologies brought efficiencies to such old-line companies as auto and chemical manufacturers, auto suppliers and auto dealers. In December 2009, Renaissance invested invested $4 million in 5AM Ventures, a venture capital fund in Silicon Valley. The importance of that transcended the money involved. 5AM Ventures, which focused on drug discovery and medical devices, was then in the throes of raising a new fund of $200 million; it planned to and did use Renaissance as a conduit to find portfolio companies in Michigan. These seeds have taken root. Our speaker will update us on the innovations emerging from Ann Arbor entrepeneurs today and their impact on the economy