Merrill Guerra of Ypsilanti is a familiar name to many in the venture capital community, but the former RealKidz entrepreneur is donning a new hat—executive director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association. Guerra takes the reins of the organization from LeAnn Auer, who leaves the MVCA to join Ford’s Treasury group in Dearborn, and she’s looking forward to continuing the work Auer and her team has started.
“LeAnn and Manisha (Tayal, MVCA Associate Director) have done a fabulous job so I’m not looking to come in and change anything,” Guerra said of her plans for her first few months in the position. “My first goal is to get to know our membership and get a sense of who we are as an organization. One of the exciting things for me in talking to the board of directors was the sense of family that exists in this organization. I’m fortunate in that I know several people in the community already through my work with RealKidz but I’m excited to create relationships with other members.”
Guerra says she “stumbled” into entrepreneurship after a pivotal lunch with Todd Sullivan, CEO of startup company Spirit Shop. “We were talking about starting businesses and I said I had a couple of ideas, including filling a market need I saw for plus-size kids clothes. He recommended I take Prof. Jim Price’s New Venture Creation class at U-M, where I was an MBA student. I created a business plan and investor presentation, saw some early success at business plan competitions, and got seed funding from my family. Things started taking off after that.”
She thinks the traits that helped her create and grow her business are also traits that will serve her well in her new role as the head of the MVCA. “I am someone who tends to be an agent of change at heart. If I see a problem that needs to be fixed I don’t sit around, I like to work on fixing that problem.” She also says her ability to build relationships and to create an environment that is conducive to achieving goals will also be called upon as she leads the organization into its second decade of existence.
One thing Guerra won’t have the luxury of doing is easing slowly into the job. “We have the annual awards dinner November 7 so I’m already focused on doing a great job with that and continuing some of the other projects LeAnn has already put in motion. I’m so excited to be working with an amazing group of people and to continue making a difference in the economic direction of Michigan.”