When Max Brickman looked to expand South Bend, Ind.-based Heartland Ventures, he did a search of about 15 cities in the Midwest.
“Columbus was by far the most collaborative and just had everything together right off the bat,” says Brickman, founder and managing director of the venture capital firm. “It made the transition incredibly easy, and we’re amazed at what the city has already built.”
Heartland Ventures focuses on connecting startups to corporations. It raised a $15 million fund from 30 large, family-owned businesses in North Indiana, which are major users of technology and experts in their respective industries, Brickman says. If a corporation uses the startup technology and finds it helpful, the VC firm invests in either a seed or Series A round and helps the startup expand into that particular market.
That’s why Columbus’ corporate involvement was so important.
“The level of involvement from a lot of the corporates was just impressive to see,” Brickman says. “They’re already aware of what was going on in the community. They’re already giving back to the community and are already involved in a lot of the local startups that are being developed here. We haven’t seen that in a lot of other cities.”
Heartland Ventures will have a Columbus office staffed by a few people. Brickman says the idea is to replicate the VC firm’s position as the outsourced R&D arm for corporations, providing them access to new technology.
Since he founded Heartland Ventures three years ago, it has partnered with more than 70 CEOs, presidents and owners of Midwest-based companies. In a couple of cases, Brickman says, San Francisco-based companies have opened secondary offices in South Bend because a huge percentage of their customers were in Indiana.
Brickman started his first company at age 14. His landscaping company grew large enough that he was able to buy a duplex in Northern Wisconsin. He then expanded that into 450 units throughout high school and college before selling the enterprise.
In college, he launched his next venture, an education company that prevented cheating on exams. Brickman licensed that to an international company.
“I moved to South Bend after that, because that’s where my girlfriend, now wife, was going to grad school and ended up falling in love with the city and started the fund,” he says.
Building on the foundation
The VC firm has more than half of its first fund still undeployed, but Brickman hopes to raise another when it’s depleted.
Working with coastal venture capitalists, Heartland Ventures has invested in six portfolio companies, facilitated more than 114 startup connections for Midwest corporations and created more than $65 million in pipeline revenue for its portfolio companies.
“Our expansion into Central Ohio will allow us to continue to build on the foundation that supports thriving startups and innovative, large companies,” Brickman says. “By focusing on cultivating connections between Columbus corporations and technology on the coasts, we’re creating stronger ties between the ecosystem established here and other tech hubs from around the country.”
Those connections also could be between corporations. If a manufacturing company in Indiana and a logistics company in Columbus want to start working together, he says, Heartland Ventures would love to help make that happen.