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Jul 23

5 Minutes with Chris Onan

Posted by: Mark Solon        


Here at Highway 12 Ventures, we’re in the somewhat unique position of having a singular focus of investing in the most promising high growth companies in the Intermountain West, an area that overlaps the footprint of the RMVCA (which is the subject of this post). If you’re not from around here, I wrote two posts about the region earlier this year, one tongue-in-cheek and one a little more serious. One of the goals of having our blog is to familiarize our readers with what’s happening in the startup communities in the region. In that spirit, this is the first of many in my “5 minutes” series of posts with the folks that are making things happen in the start-up community in the region.

A couple of years ago, the board of directors of the Colorado Venture Capital Association (Colorado has long been a top 10 US venture market) recognized that the Rocky Mountain region was attracting more and more venture capital investment and decided to expand the organization, thus the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association (RMVCA) was born. I was honored to be the first non Colorado based VC to serve on the board and it’s been very gratifying to be a part of an organization that is doing so much to support start-ups and entrepreneurs in the region.

Other than the semi-annual Venture Capital in the Rockies conference held each winter and fall, not many folks know what else the RMVCA does so I decided to get the word out. Below you’ll find my interview with Chris Onan, Managing Director at Appian Ventures in Denver and the Chairman of the RMVCA.

Chris Onan, Chairman of the RMVCA

Chris Onan, Chairman of the RMVCA

Chris, tell us a bit about the RMVCA. What’s the mission?

The mission of the RMVCA is to foster entrepreneurship and the venture capital industry in the Rocky Mountain region. Our goals are to increase, i) the number of firms investing in the region, ii) the number of companies in the region successfully raising capital, and iii) the total dollars invested in the region.

Why would anyone other than VC’s join a venture capital association?
The RMVCA provides a community of content for those interested in entrepreneurship and capital raising.  Our association has many non-VC members.  Our group is also comprised of law firms, investment banks, executive search firms, commercial banks, and accounting firms.  Many of these members have long counted VCs and venture-backed companies as clients and partners.  This diversity of membership base enhances the quality of our organization.

VCIR has now expanded to twice a year (Winter & Fall). What was the reason to go to two times a year?
It’s been a few years now since the RMVCA was established to encompass the entire Rocky Mountain region.  Prior to that, Venture Capital in the Rockies, was a conference put on solely by the Colorado venture firms in partnership with KPMG.  With the regional expansion, it made sense for us to add a second capstone event in order to showcase additional entrepreneurs across the region.  The first VCIR Fall, held in 2008 in Sun Valley, Idaho, was immensely successful and I think you’ll see the RMVCA build on that this September 8-10th in Park City, Utah.

What could I expect to see if I come to VCIR Fall in Park City?
If you make the trip to beautiful Park City in September, you will find top quality networking.  If you are raising capital, there will be at least 40-50 venture firms in attendance.  If you are looking to invest in new and exciting opportunities, you’ll see 10-15 high quality entrepreneurs present their business.  You’ll also have a chance to take in some very interesting keynote speeches.  Lastly, you can expect to see me take Mark Solon’s money during the poker tournament.

What other events does the RMVCA put on?
The RMVCA hosts and sponsors many other events throughout the Rocky Mountain region each year.    Please visit to see our 2009 calendar of events

How has the economic downturn affected the venture capital industry?
I think we can say the macroeconomic downturn has affected just about every industry.  No question the VC world has felt that as well.  US venture investing declined from $15 billion in the 1st half of 2008 to just less than $7 billion here in the first half of 2009.  I’d say the industry has been affected fairly dramatically.  The exit environment has not been robust.  This is a key driver of the decreased VC investment activity.  M&A activity is down materially from prior years (most importantly in terms of $$$).  We likely won’t see huge increases in VC dollars invested until the exit environment improves and venture firms are able to get liquidity for their LPs.  This in turn should drive increased VC fund raising and concomitant new investments from those VC firms that successfully raise capital.

What about in the Rocky Mountain Region?

The Rocky Mountain region, fortunately, is highly economically diverse.  We don’t have a high concentration of housing/finance related businesses - the sectors that led the decline.  I won’t try to kid you and suggest the region is going to show double digit growth here in 2009, but I think you’ll see us hold up fairly well in the current downturn.

Thanks Chris. Looking forward to seeing you in Park City in September. I’ll have my darkest shades ready to hang with you at Poker Night!



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