At Beringea, MVCA Venture Fellow John Bonhard helps the firm invest in startup companies at the growth/expansion stage, long after their days of incubator space and initial round of seed funding. But he quickly realized these companies required a different skill set to find, invest in, and manage than the early-stage tech startups he once considered typical venture deals. Bonhard discusses his work in venture investing at Beringea and the technology in their portfolio that has him, literally, seeing the future.
Tell us about your Fellow position – where are you, what have you been doing?
Over the past two years, I have been investing a series of growth capital funds in late-stage venture opportunities for Beringea, a Farmington Hills firm providing capital to high-growth, high-potential businesses. As an associate at Beringea, my primary responsibilities include managing deal flow and evaluating new opportunities, conducting due diligence on promising opportunities, preparing financial and industry analyses, formulating investment theses and deal structuring, and preparing investment memoranda. Also, I monitor Beringea’s existing portfolio and, in many cases, work directly with our portfolio companies as an added resource on Board-directed initiatives. Away from the office, I attend networking and venture community events where I can engage with entrepreneurs and investors to strengthen Beringea’s deal flow pipeline.
What favorite new technology or solution did you encounter during your time as a Fellow?
Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to learn about many new, exciting technologies and solutions from Beringea’s global portfolio, which also contains UK businesses. One technology that I found particularly interesting is U.S. portfolio company InContext Solutions’ application of virtual reality in a shopping and retail environment. The solution allows retailers and CPGs to see how their in-store ideas play out in virtual situations before investing in the physical world. I am excited to see what the future holds for this technology and the company. Whether it’s an improved retail environment in your neighborhood Walgreen’s or assisting Michigan-based Kellogg’s in transforming their business, InContext’s technology will undoubtedly have an impact on Michigan families and businesses.
Is there something you’ve learned during your Fellowship that you didn’t know before you started in the industry?
When I first started in the industry, I had to learn nearly everything from step one. One of my favorite aspects of my role at Beringea is how I am challenged every day to learn something new, whether it’s researching a new industry, creating a new model, or learning how to deal with a new challenge faced by a portfolio company; there are endless opportunities to grow. One interesting thing I learned during my fellowship is that different types of investing require different sets of skills, even within venture capital. Every stage of investing, from seed to late-stage to buyouts, requires a different combination of financial analysis, operational expertise, industry relationships, and leadership capabilities. Over the last two years, I have met with countless investors, each with a different set of skills and perspective on investing; it is through these interactions I learn more about my personal investing style. I feel fortunate to have found alignment with a great firm in Michigan and look forward to a promising future for our Michigan-based funds.
Has there been anything surprising you’ve learned about yourself/your perspective on venture capital as a profession you didn’t know before you started?
Before working in the industry, I perceived venture capital as a niche within the private equity space focusing on small companies in the early stages of their development. I had also been under the impression that most of your time as a venture capitalist is spent making investment decisions when, in reality, it is spent partnering with your portfolio companies following the initial investment and helping them grow. Soon after joining Beringea I began to appreciate the prevalence of venture capital across all industries and company stages. Venture capital is not limited to the small, tech startups as you hear about in pop culture, it’s a major force in the world and what I believe will be the key to creating value in the world for the foreseeable future.
What are your plans post-Fellowship? Do they include growing your career in Michigan?
Following the conclusion of my fellowship, I plan to continue with Beringea and execute our Midwest-focused growth capital investment strategy. The conditions for growth-stage businesses in the Midwest have been improving for several years, and many Michigan-based companies are now to the stage where they beginning to fit Beringea’s investment criteria. This anecdotal support for our investment thesis gives me cautious optimism that our growth-focused strategy is ideally positioned for the next 5-10 years. Throughout my venture fellowship with the MVCA, I have met many investors and entrepreneurs, and I look forward to building on these relationships to advance the Michigan venture capital community and share in the prosperity of our collective success.