This week, we’re launching an “Influencer Interview” series that will periodically take a closer look at leaders and trailblazers in the high technology and high-growth company fields. We knew we wanted the first Influencer Interview to be special, and I couldn’t think of a better person to turn to than one of my long-time friends, Kimberly (Kim) Weir, who serves as the deputy executive director of Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA).
I met Kim more than 10 years ago, and I knew right away she was someone special. She was a natural go-getter–sharp and very capable–but what drew me to her most was how open and generous she was with her time, knowledge, and her incredible network. At that time, she was with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, traveling the world promoting and representing Virginia-based businesses while preparing to join Governor Warner’s trade mission to Mexico. Her high-profile position intimidated me initially, but she quickly put me at ease with her personable, easy style. I could talk to her about anything, from the details of our busy work lives to our future family plans. More than a decade later and with her growing success, she is the same special Kim I first met–but now more powerful and influential!
1. Tell me about your role at MAVA. Why did you decide to join MAVA after so many years working in the international business development field?
I’ve now been at MAVA for about five years – as hard as that is for me to believe. I’m the deputy executive director, working side-by-side with our awesome executive director, Julia Spicer. My role is to expand her bandwidth, and we do just about everything as a team. But while she leads the charge with our Board of Directors and our strategic direction, my focus is on current member and sponsor engagement, new member and sponsor development, and most of the marketing and communication work to tell the world about our programs.
I started working with the team in early 2011 while I was still building my own small business development firm, Starting Gate Global. My initial work for MAVA focused on introducing the organization to companies that had not previously had any interaction with the venture community. As the world was starting to wake up post-recession, MAVA was strategically looking to engage corporate strategics who provide the technology services and products that the emerging and fast-growing companies at the heart of MAVA’s work consume in such enormous quantities.
Ultimately, the chemistry with Julia and the scope of the work led to the moment when, much to my surprise, I was invited to join the team full-time. I’ve loved meeting with so many amazing, talented, interesting people and working with such an extraordinary community of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.
Happily, I still maintain some touch points with my “old life” of international business development through the great work of our members at UKTI, Embassy of Canada, the Italian Embassy and IDA Ireland, who help our growing companies expand overseas. I do miss the long flights and travel adventures, but now I live a bit vicariously through our community – and I save my international travel for vacation.
2. MAVA has a long history of serving the region’s investment and entrepreneur community, but tell me what most people don’t seem to know about MAVA.
It’s funny, I find that many people are familiar with MAVA, but like most things that have been around a long time, people know us for the one thing they remember or the specific event they attended at any given point in time. The first thing people may not realize about MAVA is that it has been around for nearly three decades – founded by private investors as a nonprofit, member-supported community organization and trade association for the private capital investors in the Mid-Atlantic.
Beyond the longevity of the organization, the thing people may not fully appreciate about MAVA is how it has constantly evolved over the years to remain relevant and valuable to the community we serve. While the focus has always been on serving the private capital investors and the companies they invest in, the programs and events have changed significantly with each chapter and cycle of the technology and financial industries. What we did in the go-go 90s was really different than what we did in the dark days of 2008-2011, and what we’re doing today is different still, reflecting the needs of our community. I encourage everyone who has ever heard of MAVA to check in with us regularly to stay in touch with the MAVA of today, not the one you may have known five or 10 years ago.
On this note, the third thing I think people may not fully understand about MAVA, thanks to a 30-year-old name with a V in the middle, is that our members represent the full spectrum of capital from early and seed stage, through traditional VC and growth capital, and on through later stage and buyout capital. While the traditional institutional venture asset class has contracted, the dollars at work have done nothing but grow in our market. However, today we see financing is now delivered through a diverse range of fund structures (family offices, angels, corporate strategics, institutional VC, debt and more). The MAVA board reflects the diversity of active capital in our market, and our programming is designed to support the companies that our investors are investing in – across stage and sector.
In addition, we have now started including CEOs on the MAVA Board – to help us develop and deliver value to the growth companies that are in the portfolios of our investors. This has been a really important new development in MAVA’s history as it “completes the cycle” by bringing the operators who have grown great companies in our community back into the ecosystem to help us support the next generation of company builders. We’re really fortunate to have Sid Banerjee, CEO of Clarabridge; Wayne Jackson, CEO of Sonatype; and David Steinberg, Chairman of Radius Networks, on our board, and we look forward to announcing new CEO members over the coming months. These serial entrepreneurs are bringing an incredibly valuable new perspective to our work – and they really help us engage other growth companies in our platform.
3. TechBUZZ Summer 2015 is coming up on June 16, but what’s the event all about?
I just love TechBUZZ. Specifically, I love working with all the bright-eyed, passionate, creative and visionary entrepreneurs who are building and growing companies that will shape our world tomorrow. Now in its fifth year, TechBUZZ is run as a yearlong platform of programs created to introduce young emerging tech companies from up and down the East Coast to the vibrant community of investors and advisors in the Mid-Atlantic who are ready to help them grow. It is one of MAVA’s most visible programs, built around three half day, pitch-event conferences each year.
Each TechBUZZ event features up to 20 companies on stage, industry-leading CEO keynotes, active investor feedback panels, and amazing networking. TechBUZZ is a big show, a celebration, and above all, a huge “launch” for the companies selected to take the stage – the lift these firms get through the process is truly trajectory-changing for many of them. Since launch, we’ve shone the spotlight on more than 200 companies, and we’re finding that just over 40% of them have been funded within 12 months of their time on stage.
For TechBUZZ Summer 2015, the following 16 startups are presenting: Athena Power, Inc., Attentiv, Bubbl, Buzzmark, CyberTimez, Cyph, DaoCloud, Esplota, First Mile Geo, Inc., Jewelbots, Lessoncast, RedShred, RelishMBA, Uplevel Security, Virgil Security and YOPP.
4. What are you most excited about for the upcoming TechBUZZ?
What makes TechBUZZ so exciting is the way in which it invests the energy, experience and perspective of our MAVA members (investors and advisors) into helping 60 emerging tech companies (each year) really launch themselves to an audience of their peers, investors, corporate strategics and potential customers. The fact that our investor members drive the selection process makes a huge impact on the caliber of companies we place on stage at TechBUZZ, and the fact that our members serve as coaches (one investor and one advisor are assigned to each company) to make sure that they are as ready as possible for their four minutes on stage.
The companies that are selected grow and change so much by strengthening their pitch, refining their way of communicating their product, technology, solution and/or market – it’s a little bit like Cinderella, and I guess MAVA is sort of the Fairy Godmother, as they show up on the big day ready to wow the world with their solutions and presentations.
It’s heartening to hear the feedback of these companies who learn so much through the preparation process, and then gain so much exposure as a result of their participation. And, of course, the most fun is when we can say “we knew them when”… as we can with RedOwl Analytics, Canvas, ID.me, Distli.IT, DataRPM, Framebridge, ZeroFox, Citelighter, ThreatQuotient and so many more. Once they’ve been through the TechBUZZ gauntlet, we consider them part of the ecosystem forever – and we celebrate their achievements and major milestones for years after they’ve been with us on stage.
5. What makes the Mid-Atlantic region unique from the technology investment perspective?
There are some really unique and powerful technology drivers in the Mid-Atlantic, especially the DC area, which give our region a unique identity and heritage in terms of the technology that really thrives here. Those drivers are largely tied to the 800 lb. gorillas in our community – the federal government, the defense systems, and Congress and its policy-shaping role. These big players may not directly interface with the technology or investment communities, but they spin off a lot of knowledge upon which our community capitalizes. Examples include: cyber security, health IT, education technology, cloud and data analytics, and all things mobile (derived from the big telecom days of PSINet and UUNET).
In each sector, we see founders and technologists developing solutions to problems that they saw with their own eyes and worked around to create novel solutions for the government with an active eye toward commercial sector deployment. For example, it’s just amazing how many cyber companies we see with founders coming straight out of the National Security Agency (NSA). That’s a level of credibility you are just not likely to see in another market. We see the impact of these areas of expertise directly affect the level of knowledge our investors bring to these sectors, and the strength of technology that our regional entrepreneurs create, based on deeply rooted engagement with the large scale challenges faced in our federal government and defense markets.