Kirk Holland is General Partner of Boulder, Colorado-based venture capital firm Vista Ventures (www.vistavc.com), and also on the board of the newly formed Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association. We spoke with Kirk about the new group and its goals, as well as his perspective on the venture industry here in the region.
What's the idea behind the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association?
Kirk Holland: I've been a board member of the Colorado Venture Capital Association for about three years now. Colorado has historically has been a great place for high tech companies in general, and is a large part of the Rocky Mountain region in terms of capital invested here. Depending on the year, Colorado's share of the deals ranges anywhere from about half to many years 60-70% of the deal flow. We saw that there were lots of synergies between other states and ours. Frankly, those of us in the CVCA have been co-investors and have had very good relationships with other in the region, and about a year and a half ago we started to explore and create a national critical mass and national focus on a region that is underserved, under-covered, and in my opinion, a diamond in the rough for investors to look at. We've built some great companies here, and have all the elements for creating great technology companies well into the future. I moved here from the Bay Area five and a half years ago, and as an individual looked at many markets--the Northwest, Southern California, Texas, and others on where I could build a venture business on a long term basis--where, twenty years from now--and this was 5 years ago--it would be a great place to grow technology companies, and grow a strong venture firm. I picked Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region as a place to do that. About a year and a half ago, the leaders in the venture community in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico--and like good venture capitalists, got our heads together on a plan that made sense. We merged and formed the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association, which everyone is excited about--everyone from the original Colorado Venture Capital Association members to all the venture capitalists we know in Utah and other parts of the region.
What will the RMVCA be offering, and doing?
Kirk Holland: Obviously, we're going to be expanding to look out for our constituents across the states which we are now going to be covering. We are going on the planning docket. We recently held Venture Capital in the Rockies, which from a media coverage standpoint had great coverage. We even had the national press, Dan Primack from Private Equity Week covering us this year. We are going to continue to have a great VC in the Rockies event, which will be put on and sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association, and we're now exploring what another regional event would look like, though we don't have details yet. We are looking at adding a second major event that the RMVCA will coordinate and sponsor and put on. So if you look at that, by adding another event we will double the exposure of the entrepreneurial community to VCs here as well as from out of state. We're excited about increasing exposure for entrepreneurs--at the end of the day, it's all about the entrepreneurs, and technology companies that we invest in the region. A major event that would drive that would be important to us.
Do you think this will encourage co-investing, and having firms look across the state borders here?
Kirk Holland: That, frankly, was already happening, even before we decided to merge our groups. The folks in Colorado look at investments in the broader Rocky Mountain region, and similarly, the funds in Utah and Idaho and Arizona and New Mexico all invest across region. It's hard to even think about a fund that I know of in the Rocky Mountain region that only looks at or does investments in their home state. Though some more active than others, no one's charter only focuses on Utah or Idaho or Colorado.
From your perspective, how's the venture activity and opportunity now in the region? It seems like things have really been picking up lately.
Kirk Holland: The market is very healthy in the region right now. There's a lot of great activity. Lots of companies that were funded in the last three or four years are maturing nicely, and bringing in new, larger out of state-led financings. For example, we just closed a large equity financing in a company called Market Force. It was a great financing, and we brought in Monitor Ventures, Clipper Ventures, and raise a very large equity round north of $30M dollars. So, we're seeing the example of many of these Series A companies that our regional guys funded between three and four years ago, maturing nicely, making progress, and bringing in new equity financing rounds.
Having been a Bay Area VC, and working a lot with them, how is the response of Bay Area venture capitalists to opportunities and investing in the region?
Kirk Holland: Bay Area VCs are very responsive. With Bay Area firms, particularly with the Bay Area market getting hot, and competition and prices escalating there, there is an appetite and more progressive thinkers willing to look out of their home region for great opportunities. It's a confluence of two things--there is their own marketplace, where prices are escalating--and also that there are some very great companies who have made outstanding progress in the past few years. With out of state firms, the more mature the opportunities are the easier it is for them to do something further from home base.
What are some of the hot sectors you see right now?
Kirk Holland: One category that we focus on--and I used to run Jupitermedia's venture arm when I was in the Bay Area--is Internet investments. During the down cycle, and since I've been out there with IT and software related deals, but out here in this region we have great companies in tha area which we term Internet Media/data services at Vista. There have been some great companies funded, and progress in these companies--Market Force fits into this bucket, and we did a company called Thought Equity, which is going gangbuster. Thought Equity does for Video what Getty does for photo, it's like a professional version of YouTube. That company is doing well. We also have a company called Umbria, there's NewsGator, and Groople. In the last year or two, the Internet Media/Data services have really spiked here. Another one is Associated Content which is also doing very well. That subsector here is an exciting one.
Thanks for the great insights!