ISA Ventures Raises Capital Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Cedar Rapids’ NewBoCo founder, Eric Engelmann, began two startups prior to creating ISA Ventures, Iowa’s first multi-stage venture capital studio. He first founded Geonetric before starting NewBoCo, a 501(c)(3) that supports startups mainly in eastern Iowa, supports startups, encourages technical education and helps companies innovate. After growing NewBoCo, Engelmann felt the need to create something new again and, at the end of 2020, stepped down as NewBoCo’s executive director to become general partner at ISA Ventures.
Creating a Fund
By creating a fund, ISA Ventures is able to bring in investors who might not have the time to devote to all the diligence work on their own. Engelmann says those involved include names you’d expect, but what he has focused on is names you wouldn’t expect, in an effort to develop a younger investor ecosystem. As he worked to create the fund, Engelmann realized the importance of building a good team, including General Counsel Frank Camp, Associate Mikayla Sullivan and Analyst Brittany Brown.
ISA Ventures only invests in companies with a significant presence in the state of Iowa. Key industry sectors center on technology in bio, healthcare, medical, education, engineering, automation, agriculture, insurance, finance, transportation and logistics.
Engelmann discusses a few of the companies ISA Ventures is working with: TuitionFit, Rantizo, Tractor Zoom and Nebullam. He says that right now the companies in the fund tilt toward the ag industry, but he sees that changing as more businesses come on board. Engelmann says his focus is to find ways to be valuable to startups and the ecosystem at large.
As the ISA Ventures team came together, they built a process to be fast. First, there is an initial phone call with any potential new founders. If the team decides they’re interested in taking a look at the business, they do a deep dive call in which the founders must be prepared. For any deal over $100,000, the ISA Ventures team routes it past the advisory team — made up of Steve Gray, Cammie Greif, Bruce Lehrman, Pankaj Monga and Nate Kaeding — for feedback and votes on whether to move forward with the company.
In 2021 and beyond, Engelmann anticipates even more capital raised in future funds. He highlights the importance of having people who will play a role in the startup ecosystem over a number of years that gradually help move the entire region forward.
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