As a newcomer to the venture industry, Dan Ratliff didn’t know what to expect when he joined Detroit-based Fontinalis Partners as an MVCA Venture Fellow two years ago. But as he ends his Fellowship period and remains with the firm, he can more fully appreciate the unique collaborative nature of the Michigan venture community and envision his own place in it for years to come.
Tell us about your MVCA Venture Fellow position – where are you, what have you been doing?
I’m currently an Associate on the investment team at Fontinalis Partners, living and working in Downtown Detroit. As an Associate, my role covers a full range of venture capital responsibilities – deal due diligence, sourcing investment opportunities, valuation analyses, fund reporting activities, working with our portfolio companies, and supporting any fundraising activities. I also lead our junior investment team, which currently includes three Analysts, and together we support the rest of the Fontinalis team as needed in order to make the firm more efficient and ensure Fontinalis remains the leading investor in mobility.
How did you use your Fellowship period to contribute to the growth of Michigan’s venture capital community? How did the Michigan venture community help you grow in your understanding of the industry and your role in it?
When I first joined Fontinalis, having not previously been directly exposed to the venture capital community, I was surprised at all the different events and opportunities for venture capitalists to interact and build a strong community. MVCA has helped establish a great culture of venture capitalists and angel investors working together, sharing insights, and regularly engaging with each other and with entrepreneurs. Over the course of my Fellowship, I’ve had a number of great opportunities to sit on panels (and moderate them), serve as a judge for a variety of competitions, and work directly with entrepreneurs like those going through the Techstars program in Detroit. I’ve also engaged with the broader community, beyond the other venture capitalists, including students at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University during several pitch events and with the Detroit startup community having served as a co-lead for the mobility track of the recent Detroit Startup Week. My interactions with the community during events like these has really demonstrated the collaborative nature of the Michigan venture capital community. The past two years have allowed me to grow my network in ways I wouldn’t have imagined possible, and as I look forward to a long career in venture capital and in Michigan, I know that network will prove to be invaluable.
Do you have a favorite Michigan-based portfolio company, technology, CEO or solution you’ve worked with during your time as a Venture Fellow?
The entire Techstars Mobility program has been an incredible experience throughout my time as an Associate and a Venture Fellow. Watching and working with the folks at Techstars to bring in the first class of companies during my first year, and then working alongside those teams for three months, I was able to witness a pretty unbelievable transformation among each of the ten companies. With an organization like Techstars, it would have been a great opportunity to work with any of their programs, but given our focus on mobility at Fontinalis, there really couldn’t have been a better fit than Techstars Mobility. In addition to investing in the program, the Fontinalis team also serves as mentors for each of the companies, helping them fine tune their business plans and pitches as they prepare for Demo Day and beyond. As we kick off the 2016 class of Techstars, I’m excited to get even more involved with the 12 companies coming to Detroit, and I look forward to hopefully guiding a few to stay in Michigan following the program!
What’s one thing you’ve learned during your fellowship that you didn’t know before you started in the industry?
I really didn’t have a sense for how collaborative the venture capital industry was prior to my two years as a Venture Fellow and Associate with Fontinalis Partners. Coming from investment banking where I watched private equity firms battle against each other as they vied for a deal, it was unusual to see two or more investment firms work together and forming a strong syndicate to get a deal done. Similarly, the sharing of deal flow across the community was surprising – as I grew my network locally and across the broader venture capital community, I often found myself sharing and receiving great investment opportunities with other potential investors. Of course, I also learned a tremendous amount about how venture financings work and what to look for in companies, but I expected to learn many of these core skills. The value of a building and collaborating across a great network truly stands out looking back over the past two years.
Plans post-Fellowship? Are you bullish on Michigan’s economy and the role of venture capital in it or do you see your career elsewhere?
I plan to remain on the investment team here at Fontinalis, helping find, finance, and grow the best next-generation mobility companies both in Michigan and globally. It’s been an amazing two years throughout my fellowship and I’m grateful that MVCA made it possible for me to start and continue a career in venture capital here in Michigan. Throughout my life, there has never been a better time to be in Detroit, and I look forward to being a part of the impressive momentum that has been built over the past several years. I’m a big believer that together entrepreneurs and venture capitalists can make a big impact in the region’s success.
About Fontinalis Partners
Fontinalis Partners, with offices in Detroit and Boston, is a venture capital firm strategically focused on next-generation mobility. The firm was founded in 2009 by Bill Ford, Ralph Booth, Chris Cheever, Chris Thomas, and Mark Schulz. Fontinalis invests across all facets of the world’s mobility systems on a stage- and size-agnostic basis. Fontinalis is not affiliated with Ford Motor Company. More information is available at www.fontinalis.com.