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"Primed for Growth": An Interview with Mark Kvamme

"Primed for Growth": An Interview with Mark Kvamme

One of America’s most successful venture capitalists, Mark Kvamme, will join University of Cincinnati President Neville Pinto for the Digital Futures Flashpoint Presidential Panel on March 21 at 12:30pm (RSVP). Their discussion will challenge us to think about the vital role we all play in the bioeconomy at the intersection of business, tech, and sustainability science. As a preview of that discussion, we spoke to Mark to find out more about what fuels his passion for innovation.

Q: How has your racing experience influenced the way you think about innovation? 

A: I’ve found that a race weekend is quite a lot like starting a business. Anything that can happen will happen. You have all the behind-the-scenes work to develop and get your team started, such as team briefings before the race or finding a partner or funding for your business. The race itself is like the actual launch of your business. After all the preparation and commitment and time, you put yourself out there, which comes with a lot of associated risk. The big difference between the two is that a race weekend is a few days whereas starting a business can take years. 

Q: You left Silicon Valley to start Drive Capital here in the Midwest. What do you think makes Ohio such fertile ground for innovation? 

A: I didn’t leave Silicon Valley for Ohio necessarily. I’m good friends with John Kasich, and he asked me to get JobsOhio off the ground, funding, privatizing, and launching. While I was here in Ohio, I thoroughly enjoyed my time, and, after a couple of years working on JobsOhio, I decided I wanted to stay. I asked myself “Ohio is a great place, why isn’t there a Silicon Valley-like firm here?” There really wasn’t a good answer to that, so I moved my own here. 

Q: What types of innovation do you think will have the most positive impact on Ohio’s economy? 

A: That’s a tough question. What’s nice about Ohio is that it has an incredibly diverse economy. There are many areas that are primed for growth here, such as biomedicine, especially what’s happening in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus. Supply Chain and Logistics has really exploded here. What’s nice is that Ohio has that little bit of everything plus it has access to world-class customers. Ohio is just primed for growth. On top of all that, Ohio has a low cost of living, which means each dollar goes a lot further. There’s no better place to start a company. 

Q: If you were building a dream team of bioeconomy entrepreneurs, what qualities would you be looking for? 

A: Whenever I’m looking at new entrepreneurs, there are three things I look for:  

1. Are they scratching their own itch? What I mean by that is, are they inventing something they actually care about? For instance, do they have Alzheimer’s in their family, and they’re driven to do something about it? If their focus is on the product or service and bringing that to the world, they’re in a good place.  

2. Are they doing this to do it, whatever it is? They should be focused on solving a problem, not on generating as much money as possible. When someone comes to me and says, “I want to create the biggest company that does X, Y, and Z,” that really says that they’re not in this to do X, Y, and Z, but to make money. That’s really not a great start for a business.  

3. Do they have grit and risk-orientation? I often ask, “What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?” One man answered me saying that he had offers from MIT and Harvard, and he struggled to choose between them. His biggest risk, according to him, was choosing MIT. That’s not a risk. A risk is more like seeing a massive untapped market in, say, China, and getting up and moving there. That’s a risk. That shows grit. 

Q: What gets you most excited when talking to young entrepreneurs? 

A: Passion. When I meet with a young entrepreneur who is passionate about whatever it is they’re doing, I get inspired and fueled by their passionate belief. You learn a lot from people who are truly, deeply passionate, and I love learning about new industries, and especially about how they’re going to solve that industry’s problems.