When Linda Chamberlain became a MVCA Venture Fellow at Grand Rapid’s Michigan Accelerator Fund-1 in 2012, she assumed her previous experiences leading corporate innovation business units, a high tech start-up, a life sciences incubator and a university center for entrepreneurship made her experienced enough to remain objective, even skeptical, of investment opportunities. As she nears the end of her Fellowship period two years later, Chamberlain has found that wasn’t always the case. “The process of venture investing offers the honor of sharing in the big vision of the entrepreneur, as well as the practical roadmap on how they are going to make it happen,” she remarks. “It affords- at least at that first pitch!- the time to refrain from applying objective filters, applaud the dream, and for me, exercise my inner technology geek and get excited about the commercial possibilities!”
MAF-1 invests primarily in Michigan-based, early stage, life science companies, which has allowed Chamberlain the opportunity to immerse herself in the local start-up and investment dynamic. She has been involved in all aspects of Fund life, from sourcing deals to leading due diligence to deal negotiation and syndication, and ultimately investment placement, but has found one of her favorite components to be the strategic side of portfolio management. “MAF still has room for a few more investments, and how they fit into the whole for return goals and exit timing has been fascinating to model,” she says.
Since Chamberlain joined MAF-1, the fund has reviewed over 200 deals, many of which she calls “amazing technologies with great leaders, but for this or that reason, you can’t invest in all of them. Believe me when I say that we lament the ones that got away!”
That said, she considers her first few months with MAF-1 a trial by fire, as the fund was considering a new investment in a diagnostic-enabling company. “It was a privilege to engage with the CEO and fellow investors through both the initial fund investment as well as 2013 follow-on, which just happened to be an up-round with new syndication partners!” Later, the fund needed to take an active role in management of another portfolio company, so Chamberlain volunteered to serve as interim-CEO, drove a company pivot, and still leads the business as it develops a new diagnostic for tuberculosis infection. “Through both experiences I learned and continue to learn the in’s and out’s of venture investing AND the critical work and responsibility of portfolio company management,” she says.
Her Fellowship period, and working with a variety of other Michigan venture funds, has also banished some stereotypes Chamberlain might have held about venture capital firms and their professionals. “I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of camaraderie and the overall sharing of information among funds. You always hear stories of “vulture” funds, which I think I extrapolated to an end point which included fund-to-fund relationships. Instead one finds openness and a sense of purpose in investing in a good cause. Plus with so many VCs having walked in entrepreneur shoes, the empathy quotient is high and hence their feedback is usually candid and very helpful. Put it all together with good intentions and you have the possibility of changing the world one investment at a time!