This month, I’m fortunate to connect with Len Bland, who along with David Carman gives us BNC Venture Capital, a premier venue in Chicago for startup companies seeking funding. BNC meets the first Tuesday of every month. http://bnchicago.org/ Even though Len projects a poised and reserved manner, he often quietly cuts to the bone with deep insights.
Q—Let me ask you, Len, about your mission at BNC Venture Capital.
A—Sure. The straight answer is, we introduce investment opportunities to professional investors.
Q – Is there a higher level to that?
A – I think we’ve been successful fostering the growth of entrepreneurial activity in Chicago.
Q – You’re talking startups and new ventures. How do you manage to come up with such good presenters every month? (Editor’s Note—I’ve been attending personally.)
A – Actually, it’s amazing how many good opportunities are out there. We’ve been able to choose interesting ones on a consistent basis. We present no more than three entrepreneurs every meeting so each has enough time to give a meaningful picture of their vision.
Q – That begs the question, who attends?
A – Meetings are open. We get angel investors, early-stage venture capitalists, and private equity firms seeking add-ons. Entrepreneurs attend as well as service providers. It’s a friendly group but can be a tough crowd for a presenter that’s not prepared. The questions from the audience sometimes get very pointed, but that makes for a healthy vetting process and a good learning experience for the presenters. The ones that get coaching in advance from our group or others tend to do well.
Q – You keep a strict protocol. Can you describe it in a few words?
A –Each presentation lasts 10 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of Q&A. That includes the financial picture, not just the idea, so it’s brief enough to get an entrepreneur used to giving a fast-paced delivery and to enable the investor to make a decision on whether they would like to meet. I think the driver behind the quality of the meetings comes down to five basic questions we always ask: One—What is the product or service? Two—Why will customers buy it? Three—Why is this management team the best one to run the business? Four—How does the company make money? And Five—How will the investor make money? That last one is important and entrepreneurs tend to miss it.
Q – You roll those off your tongue quite easily.
A – Well, I’ve been asking those same five questions for some time. These simple questions form the basis for any business. If you can answer all of them well, then you’re a real venture. If you can’t, then you’re not ready for the real world. I actually poll the audience afterwards to find out if all five get across.
Q – I know you recently launched the Midwest Renaissance Fund and that portfolio draws in part from companies I’ve seen present here. Is a synergy developing between those two entities?
A – Yes and we’re excited about that. Our VC fund aims at a different kind of business than other funds and yes, we’ve screened a number of companies that we expect to fund through Midwest Renaissance. http://www.midwestrenaissance.com/
Q – How does a person get invited to one of your events?
A – That’s simple. Join the BNC VC Group Notification list at http://conta.cc/joinbnc. We meet the first Tuesday of each month after working hours. If you’re an entrepreneur and interested in presenting, contact us at vcgroup@BNChicago.com The next meeting is January 3rd.
Q – Len, thanks for your time. The food and bar are great. I find the venue here at Polsinelli Shughart quite intimate with no empty seats. http://www.polsinelli.com/ I’ve been enjoying your hospitality every month and have yet to be disappointed.
A – Always a pleasure, John.
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© 2011 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved.