Crain’s Detroit Business on MGCS

Shannon Beeman
May 29, 2012

Check out what Tom Henderson of Crain’s Detoit Business had to say about Jason Mendelson’s address at MGCS:

Boulder Venture Capitalist Changes Tune on Michigan

Instead of off-key “you suck,” it’s harmonious “you rock!”

Jason Mendelson is managing director of the Boulder, Colo.-based Foundry Group, a venture capital firm with $450 million under management that plans on raising a third fund of $225 million next year.

Like many venture capitalists nationally, he got his start in the business taking courses from David Brophy, director of the Zell Lurie Institute‘s Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity at the University of Michigan‘s Ross School of Business.

Mendelson got his law degree from UM in 1998 and headed to Silicon Valley to work on his entrepreneurial chops. In 2006, he moved to Boulder to co-found the Foundry Group, which focuses on early-stage software and IT companies all over the U.S.

He doesn’t have any portfolio companies in Michigan, yet, but that might change. Josh Linker of ePrize fame and managing partner at Detroit Venture Partners, is out visiting Mendelson this weekend. And while they might be friends, one assumes some business will be discussed, as well.

Mendelson certainly let it be known at last week’s 31st Michigan Growth Capital Symposium that he was now, having changed his mind, open to the idea of doing business here.

The symposium was Brophy’s brainchild before there was any venture capital in Michigan, a way to match would-be investors with early-stage companies in desperate need of equity funding. This year’s event drew a record crowd of more than 450 entrepreneurs, service providers and venture capitalists.

Mendelson gave one of the keynote speeches, accompanied by a lengthy, entertaining slide show.

Slide No. 37 said in big, bold letters: “In 2005, I came back to Ann Arbor and there was nothing that interested me.”

Slide No. 38 said: “Then I came back in 2009 and found some seeds of a entrepreneurship system.” (Hey, he went to law school, he wasn’t an English major. Since he’s got money to invest, we’ll forgive him the lack of an “n” before “entrepreneurship.”)

Since then, things have improved dramatically, he said.

In three years, the region has boosted the quality and size of its tech infrastructure; has got its research universities more active in spinning out companies and creating jobs; has more state VC firms and a much stronger presence of out-of-state firms opening offices here and joining in deals with local VCs; has much more management talent; has a history of success now, with successful sales of such VC-started companies as HealthMedia Inc., HandyLab Inc. and Accuri Cytometers Inc.; and has had a quantum leap in entrepreneurial-nurturing organizations and networks both in Ann Arbor and Detroit.

As for Detroit, Mendelson said his recommendation to Ann Arbor folks three years ago was: “Pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Now? “Detroit rocks and Michigan rolls,” he said.

(Many of us locals in the room suddenly felt like Sally Fields when she famously (or infamously) blurted out upon winning her second Oscar in 1985: “You like me! You really like me!”)

Mendelson mentioned Detroit Venture Partners by name, crediting it with helping launch many of the more than 100 startups that call downtown Detroit home.

Austin, Texas? Spokane, Wash.? Forget worrying about catching those so-called hotbeds of VC and entrepreneurial activity, he said. “You’ve already passed them.”

He LIKES us!