Based in Colorado and Minnesota Matchstick is a pre-seed and seed stage venture capital firm that invests in software companies with ties to the Rockies or North regions of the United States. We were attracted to their deep networks with Techstars and the fact that the two partners are both founders themselves and have walked a mile in the shoes of the entrepreneurs.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Ryan Broshar, Natty Zola and Shannon Shroyer at Marchstick for our “5 Questions With…” series.
Q: Tell me a bit about Matchstick Ventures.
Ryan: One of our main theses is that there are great founders everywhere but opportunity in capital is not equally dispersed. So, our mission is to find, not just the best companies in our regions, but the best companies in the world that just happen to be based in our regions. This isn’t just the “invest in the home team” strategy. This is a very deliberate investment strategy.
Natty: That’s super important to us. We don’t think investing in these markets is charity or economic development. It’s a legit venture strategy to generate great returns and that’s been proven out.
Shannon: I think one thing that we’re really excited about is the people sometimes even more than the technology or the company. We’re really motivated to help people at these early stages where it’s really fun and intense. We get to work with amazing people who are about to change the world.
Q: What makes Matchstick a good fit for NVNG?
Ryan: We want LPs that we want to work with and make money for and one of the ways we do that is that we have really good partners who can add value to our portfolio by making introductions or identifying opportunities. Wisconsin is a key market for us, and I know I can call Grady and Carrie and they’ll know of new companies or be able to make a connection to a key executive.
Some of our LPs are focused solely on returns. NVNG’s approach of bringing important people to the to the table to work on behalf of the portfolio is unique and benefits all parties.
For example, NVNG introduced us to Benny, a lending platform that helps employees participate in their company’s equity, stock, and benefits programs. We ran a pre-seed round for Benny, leveraged our network to get them into Techstars and they’ve recently completed a seed round with a respected coastal VC. We wouldn’t have known about Benny had it not been for NVNG’s network and then they wouldn’t have captured the interest of the coastal investor were it not for our network and the Techstars opportunity. That’s the power of networks and partnerships.
Q: What’s your take on the Midwest ecosystem?
Ryan: We’ve been investing in this area for almost a decade now and over that time we’ve seen dramatic growth from basically nothing. There were startups but there was very little capital. Now, there are a bunch of new funds and increasingly coastal VC funds are interested in and willing to invest in these markets and that’s been a huge change.
What we haven’t seen is a critical mass of unicorn startups consistently coming out of here. A lot of them are in the works, but we’re just a couple turns on the wheel behind some of the other markets. And once that gets going there is a flywheel effect and then we see a second or third generation of founders starting new companies and that feeds on itself.
Q: What trends are you seeing in terms of deal flow or starts?
Ryan: Chicago has more going when it comes to big exits and the next generation of starts that generates. Denver is seeing some of that as well. But success for a startup doesn’t have to be a big blowout billion-dollar exit. It could simply be a company that started something, grew and sold for a positive outcome. The win is that the founders plus employees went through that process together and then any one of those employees could spin out and do something because they have confidence. They’ve already ridden this train before and feel that they can do it again.
If you have something that goes from zero to a billion that’s awesome, but I also think some of these smaller wins can really be a net positive for ecosystems.
Q: As you look at Matchstick’s portfolio and the work you’ve done there – what are you most proud of/passionate about?
Ryan: If we’re really proud of something, it’d be finding a company super early – one that no one else believes in – and then seeing that company through to success and positive returns. Our big motivator is demonstrating that there are great companies everywhere and that we’re going to find them, support them and invest in them.
Natty: One of the things I love about venture is that it’s not a zero-sum game. Together we can manifest value and create things out of nothing and that’s so cool. We are literally creating value just from people’s ideas and energy and effort. To be doing that all over the US, not just having that confined to the coasts, is super important for American competitiveness and for the economic health of all these regions.