Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Based in Madison, NVNG Investment Advisors aims to demystify the venture capital asset class for Wisconsin startups and draw more capital into the state.
0823 Editorcontent Startup

Startup businesses often need a hand in the form of an investment, and occasionally, that investment comes from a startup itself.

Such is the case with NVNG Investment Advisors, a Madison-based fund of funds that was started in November 2019 by longtime venture capital advisors Carrie Thome, CEO and managing director, and Grady Buchanan, managing director.

Thome’s background is different than many people involved in the venture capital and startup ecosystem in Wisconsin. She learned the business by building portfolios of venture capital funds at two of Wisconsin’s most active venture capital investors — the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB).

Buchanan was also an investment analyst at WARF before starting NVNG with Thome. His role there centered on private equity and venture capital initiatives, including the vetting of venture capital funds to be considered for inclusion within the overall portfolio.

Their decision to launch NVNG was spurred by the opportunity to build an independent investment firm that was dedicated entirely to the venture capital asset class and fundamentally change how it was viewed in the state.

“Various initiatives have been attempted on and off over the years involving public dollars, but we felt that involving the private sector, beyond just the big institutional investors, was paramount,” explains Thome. “This had been done to varying degrees of success in neighboring states, and we felt we had the right recipe and the right background and experience. The experience part was critical since there isn’t a lot of venture capital experience in Wisconsin relative to the other ecosystems we aspire to.”

NVNG was structured to take advantage of the directors’ experience and backgrounds as institutional investors, Buchanan notes.

“WARF was a unique investor because of its relationship to the University of Wisconsin–Madison and could serve as a trusted partner of venture firms looking to invest in the technologies coming off campus,” Buchanan states. “At NVNG, we seek to create an equally attractive base of investors for the venture funds we want to gain access to, so we can successfully compete for allocations. So far, we’ve proven out that premise.”

Thome and Buchanan believe that fund-of-fund vehicles in the venture capital asset class are attractive because investors can leverage their funds with other investors to gain access to a diversified pool of high-quality venture managers that may be unavailable to them as individual investors. With a fully transparent structure, they then have a view into hundreds of underlying startup investments. The NVNG team does the sourcing and vetting, and the investors get the financial returns and strategic insights in a way not done in Wisconsin before now.

NVNG is also supporting startups though its +Venture (AddVenture) online directory. Startups can create a profile and the directory is available to investors and others looking to find (and fund) startups in Wisconsin.

“We’re a boutique investment firm that was established to specialize in venture capital, and the name NVNG speaks to this philosophy of expanding the reach of venture capital to more nontraditional participants — nothing ventured, nothing gained,” says Thome. “Venture capital is a bit of a Catch-22 industry. The best firms find the best startups, so the best startups want the best venture firms. The best firms are generally marked by very high returns.”

Therefore, NVNG begins by seeking out the best venture firms that are aligned with Wisconsin industry and organizations. “We seek to cultivate the strategic aspects of investing in venture as well, so investors get twice as much impact,” Thome states. “If we are successful, then a more vibrant, growing economy will be the end result and investors will get a third impact — economic development.”

NVNG Investment Advisors
551 W. Main St., Madison, WI 53703