The entrepreneurs Dana Guthrie, managing partner of Gateway Capital Partners, has talked to since the pandemic began have largely been focused on how to pivot. That’s because what they thought was their initial value proposition to their target audience might no longer be relevant. To those entrepreneurs, she suggests heightening the focus on customers and continuing the conversation, staying connected and engaged with them to understand their needs.

“Because they're navigating this challenging time as well,” she says. “They're facing their own set of issues and challenges in navigating through a pandemic as well. So if you can listen to them, you can find what is the value that we can provide to you in this moment to help us all get through this. It may not be what you initially expected it to be.”

Guthrie’s firm is primary focused on pre-revenue startups, filling a gap she sees in Wisconsin’s funding ecosystem.

“If you're in the ecosystem and you're not fortunate enough to be able to raise the significant friends and family round, it can be complicated getting an idea off the ground,” she says. “So our fund is designed to be that initial check for those young companies, giving them 15 to 18 months of runway that hopefully allows them to hit some key milestones, and begin to track certain metrics that allows them to attract follow-on capital in the future.”

For companies that have already received venture funding, Guthrie says it's extremely important to focus on being communicative, especially to existing investors.

“They want to help,” she says. “They want to be able to double down on their previous investments in order to help you get through this challenging time. So communicating your needs and the needs of the startup is extremely important.”

The pandemic limited entrepreneurs’ ability to have in-person meetings, which could affect their ability to raise their next round. Guthrie says creating new connections to that new source of funding may be a bit challenging because the personal connection that could have been generated if people were able to meet face to face is more difficult.

“But on the flip side, I'm also seeing that some of the folks that you may have had a difficult time touching base with in the past because they were so busy and they were always on the move, they've slowed down since the pandemic. We're all for the most part locked in our homes, and so I think there's still an opportunity to reach out and tap some folks. I think people are becoming more accepting and understanding of technology and getting things done as far as deals virtually. I have had that experience in getting those done through a virtual environment. So I think there are some challenges but there's some opportunity. There are some positives as well. It's definitely an active deal community going on right now in Milwaukee, and it looks like it's only continuing to get better.

Guthrie spoke at the Milwaukee Smart Business Dealmakers Conference about how her firm got its start, how it addresses funding gaps in the market, and her sense of how the startup community is working through the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic. Hit play on the video above to check out the full conversation.