Fund partner is keynoter at entrepreneurship program
June 4, 2013By Jenny Callison
A general partner of University of North Carolina Wilmington’s new venture capital fund will give the keynote speech at a program Wednesday called “Becoming an Investor-Ready Entrepreneur.”
Tom Looney, local investor and entrepreneur, will headline the daylong forum. According to the program materials, the program is designed to educate and prepare growth-oriented entrepreneurs to present their need for capital successfully to private equity investors.
In the future, one source for private equity in the greater Wilmington area may be the Seahawk Innovation Fund, a venture capital fund that’s currently in the formative stages. Looney will talk about the fund and its partnership with the UNCW Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE) during the Wednesday workshop.
UNCW chancellor Gary Miller announced plans for the Seahawk Fund in his April 26 report to university trustees. The venture capital fund will be a hybrid, supporting business and economic development in the greater Wilmington region as well as helping to commercialize ideas that spring from the university community.
The university hopes to grow the fund to $20 million, said Max Allen, chief of staff in the chancellor’s office.
Growing numbers of universities in the U.S. are establishing venture capital funds. Some, like one at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, are run by students. Others are designed to give campus-bred initiatives a possible path to commercial success.
“Leading institutions are finding creative ways to fill the ‘Valley of Death’ funding gap,” said Russ Straate, associate director of the Venture Center in the University of Minnesota’s Office of Technology Commercialization. He said that early-stage ventures, especially ideas coming from university research, have a difficult time finding seed money to prove the validity of their concepts. The Venture Center is developing two funds: one to provide seed money and one to support ventures that are slightly further along.
The Seahawk Innovation Fund is a hybrid model that will accept funding applications from ventures in the community as well as on-campus.
“We will mine ideas from a number of different areas,” said Allen, adding that the fund would “do good for the community as well as ourselves. We’ve noticed over the last several years a number of faculty coming up with great ideas, wanting to start companies on the side. That’s something that we encourage.”
According to a statement in the university’s announcement of the Seahawk Fund, UNCW will not make a cash investment in the fund. Its Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will provide office space, personnel, administrative support and services in exchange for a limited partnership in the fund. The university will not be involved in the fund’s management.
“Becoming an Investor-Ready Entrepreneur” was developed with input from experienced entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists and fund executives, according to the program announcement.
Leading the program, in addition to Looney, are serial entrepreneur Shaun Olsen, CEO of Cloudwyze; investor Tobin Geatz, former CEO of Inclinix; Scott Anderson, a transactional attorney with the firm of WCSR; Dallas Romanowski of IMAF-Cape Fear, an early-stage venture capital fund; investor Tim Janke of North Carolina’s Small Business Technology and Development Center and IMAF; and Bill Parrish, a consultant with the SBTDC and an entrepreneur and investor.
The program takes place from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the UNCW Madeline Suites, on the UNCW campus.