Meeting Notes for July 24, 2019: Ann Arbor’s Dynamic Venture Capitalism

President Rosemarie struck the Rotary bell, and everyone stood to sing “My Country Tis of Thee” to Tom Strode’s stirring accompaniment.

Inspiration: Our ever-ebullient Ken Fischer came to the podium and delivered a wonderful inspiration. “Our speaker today is a highly successful businessman and entrepreneur. Our inspiration today reflects the thoughts of another successful businessman and entrepreneur: Steve Jobs was one of the greatest visionaries and pioneers of our time. He wasn’t an engineer, didn’t complete his college degree, yet he was able to turn around the near-bankrupt Apple into the most valuable brand in the world. Along the way he helped to transform seven industries: personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, retail stores, and digital publishing. His achievements put him alongside America’s other great innovators like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Walt Disney.” Ken then gave “10 Life Lessons from Steve Jobs” —

1. Always focus on the positive and let go of the negative.
2. Travel the world and learn new things.
3. Always take a calculated risk and have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.
4. Be wise in the company you choose to keep.
5. Learn from the failures and keep moving forward
6. Do only what you truly love.
7. Learn from others.
8. It is never too early to get started.
9. Obstacles are the opportunity to succeed. In other words, when there’s crisis, there’s opportunity.
10. Always remember you are not immortal. If you lived every day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.

In regard to #5, Ken quoted Jobs reflecting on a particularly difficult period in his life
in 1985: “At Stanford’s 2005 commencement address, he said: ‘I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.'” In conclusion, Ken cited the coda to Steve Jobs’s Stanford speech: “‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish’…It’s what Jobs always wished for himself. Maybe that’s some good advice for us.”

Song: Actor, singer, healthcare foundation director, Shelley MacMillan, came up next. Her goal — to get a disparate medley of Rotarians and guests to somehow coordinate on an anthem highlighting Innovation. It wasn’t easy. Sung to the tune of “For Me and My Gal,” the song revealed the unfamiliarity of many with this obscure corner of The American Songbook. On the other hand, those schooled in music, or at least MeTV, sailed right through. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of memories of a mellow past with the reminder of those requisite instruments of our harried present: “The bells are ringing…from my new I-Phone. And birds are singing…but they are my drones. Ev’rybody’s been knowing to a TED Talk they’re going. And for weeks they’ve been stowing, new ideas there to hone!” Watchwords, indeed, for tech’s advance guard, but it sure ain’t the “Sands of Iwo Jima.”

Rosemarie then greeted all Rotarians and guests warmly, and thanked the meeting volunteers. She welcomed back Manish Mehta from Ann Arbor North, and asked that guests be introduced by their hosts — Karen Driggs, Dennis Powers, Brooks Sitterley, and John Sepp, introduced guests, and a hearty Rotary applause went up for all.

Paul Harris Fellowship Award: “When I spoke with you two weeks ago, I spoke of strategic planning,” Rosemarie continued, “to connect with Rotary’s ‘mother ship.’ Paul Harris Fellowships recognize an individual who has contributed $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation. Our club has 166 Paul Harris Fellows. It can be a non-Rotarian — Mother Theresa, Pearl Bailey, Jimmy Carter, Jim Lovell, and Jonas Salk are examples of this good company. Today, one of our own, Marcia Lane, now Chair of the Peace Committee, will be the recipient [loud applause].” As Marcia made her way to the podium, Rosemarie recounted her commitment, and her father Clark Ewing’s, to Rotary, emphasizing the Lane’s belief in Service Above Self and “love of family. Marcia was Conference Coordinator for the World Peace Conference in 2017…Before that, Marcia was Executive Director with Haiti Nursing Foundation for 10 years. [Following this, she] founded Pathfinder, Inc., a Florida non-profit, serving for 14 years, and building it into a million-dollar business…Her greatest contribution and first love is for her large extended family: her two daughters and four granddaughters who are this week…at YMCA Camp Storer [where her father served as Executive Director] as the fourth generation campers in her family…A world of peace and goodwill comes closer to reality today as Marcia Lane becomes a Paul Harris Fellow…Congratulations, Marcia.

Kiwanis Baseball Outing: Dennis Powers announced that tickets are available for the baseball outing to Comerica Park August 10. “We’ve moved to Maple Village [to meet], in front of the Level One Bank. It’s $70 per person. [Note: Meeting time to be announced next week.]

17th Annual Golf and Tennis Outing: Auction Committee Chair, Kati Bauer, appealed for additional silent auction gifts, such as vacation destinations, services, [art,] and gift cards. “Ashish and Norma have donated a one or two-room apartment in Spain or the Canary Islands for ONE WEEK! So, please donate anything valuable that you can.”

Speaker: Dallas Dort came forward to introduce our speaker, Renaissance Venture Capital Chief Executive Officer and Fund Manager Christopher L. Rizik: “As most of you know, the University of Michigan is the leading public research university in the country…Today, Chris Rizik is back. We’re lucky to get him to talk to us every few years, because nobody is in a better position to update us on the broader picture of — let’s call it the Innovation Economy.” Dallas then got into specifics: “Chris runs a fund of funds — a fund that invests in innovation through other funds. Altogether, his fund has invested over $200 million. He’s also closely tied to the main private and governmental groups addressing the economic and investment issues in Michigan…Please help me bring Chris Rizik back to our podium!”

Chris was greeted with a warm and vociferous ovation. “A lot has happened since I was here 2-3 years ago in the entrepreneurial-tech area; indeed, Ann Arbor’s come into its own the last two years.” He then asked a fundamental question: “Why venture capital? Because it has an out-sized influence where it is. V.C. has driven the economy — 11% of U.S. jobs [resulting in] 21% of GDP.” He then enumerated several Ann Arbor success stories in the venture capital sphere — Millendo, Esperian, and Duo. He noted that another, Rivian, is one of the “most exciting.” With the slogan “Keep the World Adventurous Forever,” Rivian is “a new kind of car company,” creating groundbreaking electric battery technology for tomorrow’s transport needs. “Rivian’s notable for the types of jobs it creates,” Chris observed, citing the training, dedication, and self-motivation of its employees.

Remarking of the Great Recession of 2008-9, Chris declared “It was a time of missed opportunities in entrepreneurship, a tough time to start a company on account of the big industrial companies…Renaissance invests in venture capital funds — about $240 million. What are the goals? — to achieve strong returns on investment.” One way this is realized after initial funding is “investor companies [brought in by Renaissance] agree to become customers of the start-ups.” So far, $100 million of a $200 million investment budget has “generated $1.5 billion of investment into Michigan.” And Renaissance maintains a close relationship with its new proteges: “We curate more than 1,000 meetings annually between the start-ups and major companies.”

Chris noted that Renaissance doesn’t keep the secret of its success a secret — “We’ve open-sourced our model in Houston and Cincinnati. We all benefit from other V.C. firms like ours.” Then, his investment philosophy: “Disruption in virtually every field; that’s where venture capital likes to invest. [Today we can] use predictive data. This couldn’t be acted upon in the past; being able to actually use the data [collected].” He gave the example of the past inability of company personnel to predict when and where a malfunction would occur in a machine. “Today, sensors gather data millions of times, so we can PREPARE for the break-down.”

2018 was, according to Chris, “the biggest year ever for venture capital firms — business was up 35%.” Then, the welcome bottom line: “Ann Arbor is the center for venture capital, because of the University. On the same block downtown where my offices are located, most of the other V.C. firms in Michigan are located, too.” He did note, however, that this wasn’t always the case: “Ten years ago it was much harder to attract venture capital investments here. That’s changed. Ann Arbor now welcomes start-ups.”

In conclusion, Chris emphasized one of the great long-term benefits of V.C. support of start-ups — the natural “spinning-off” of new companies from the original start-up ‘mother ship. He cited this phenomenon in Indianapolis, specifically the success of Exact Target which has made that city “the hottest V.C. market in the country…Now, will Ann Arbor be the next Indianapolis?” He didn’t answer that one, but it seems Treetown’s going in the right direction. “Mentorship is extremely important. Where there’s success, it’s there…Ann Arbor SPARK is a good example of this.”

Resounding applause filled the ballroom as Rosemarie presented Chris with the club’s Maize and Blue gift bag.