Chris Rizik, CEO of Ann Arbor's Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, was recently named a finalist for an Entrepreneur of the Year award for the Michigan/Northwest Ohio region by the global accounting and professional services firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young).
Rizik is one of several Ann Arbor-area nominees for the award, along with Jan and Sassa Akervall of Akervall Technologies, Phil Brabbs of Torrent Consulting, and Doug Armstrong of North Star Reach. Award winners for the region will be announced during a June 21 event at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and regional winners can go on to be considered for a national award.
Rizik was nominated by a colleague and then interviewed by a panel of independent judges who were impressed not only by Renaissance's commitment to Michigan but also by the fact that Rizik started his venture capital business in 2008 when the economy in Michigan was at one of its lowest points.
Rizik says the nomination is flattering to him personally. But more importantly, he's glad it will shine a light on what Renaissance is doing to help Michigan's entrepreneurial community. He describes Renaissance as "a fund of funds with a mission."
"We invest in venture funds around the country under the condition that they come get engaged in Michigan," Rizik says.
Rizik came to venture capital with a background as a lawyer. He then started working in venture capital and says he saw a lot of missed opportunities.
"There was this great research coming out of universities in Michigan, a high concentration of engineers, lots of talented people, but we still couldn't seem to shake out of being a middle-of-the-pack state," Rizik says.
He saw too many startups unable to grow due to lack of funding, and great talent and technology leaving the state.
"I thought that leading this new fund that would try to do something innovative was a mission I could really get behind," he says. "I felt from my experience it could work, even though nobody had done it before, and it has been exactly what I hoped."
Rizik says Renaissance's business model is now being replicated in other parts of the country, and Michigan is breaking out of that "middle-of-the-pack" position. Compared to about 10 or 15 years ago, startups today have nearly 10 times as many venture capital firms to seek funding from.
"Every year, we see Michigan becoming more and more important as a national venture capital hub," Rizik says.
Another aspect of Renaissance's mission is to help connect small startups with larger corporate players. Renaissance helps startups get meetings and customer relationships with big companies, and the major companies get exposed to innovation they wouldn't otherwise see, he says.
"I love getting up every day for work and looking at the impact we're having," Rizik says. "Everybody involved is making good money and at the same time really helping Michigan."
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Renaissance Venture Capital Fund.