Village Ventures Looks To Heat Up Sunshine State

In a Florida triangle that stretches from Tampa?s Gold Coast, up to Gator-ruled Gainesville and back down through Disney Country, Village Ventures plans to sit squarely in the middle. With tomorrow?s launch of a new fund-raising drive, the Williamstown, Mass.-based firm may provide a fresh source of capital to a technology-rich region where the pool of early-stage funding is particularly dry.

Although 2000 was a banner year for Central Florida?s start-ups ? 21 companies raised $363 million in venture financing, according to Richard Fox, president of the Central Florida Innovation Corp. ? most of which was invested in later-stage deals or very young spin-offs from university or government labs. The missing link, said John Krug, vice president of technology industry development at the Metro-Orlando Development Corp., is in early-stage financing.

?Ventures like [Village Ventures?] will have a tremendous impact for entrepreneurs in Central Florida,? he said. ?Most start-ups are okay in the very early seed stage, but even if they can get angel funding, they have a hard time getting to that next stage. Without self-funding, they can?t get angel funding. Without angel funding, they can?t get the early-stage, and without that, they can?t get all the other stuff.?

Village Ventures, an umbrella-like firm that manages a family of 13 early-stage funds in 10 states will partner with three local executives on its latest fund-raising effort. Dan Rua, a former partner with Draper Atlantic, will manage the fund?s Gainesville office. Charles Resnick, a former undersecretary in the George H. Bush administration and most recently vice president for corporate development at Mimeo Inc., will manage the fund?s Tampa effort. James Boyle, an investor with Canada?s Capital Communications CDP venture fund, will work from Orlando, while Carolyn Ticknor will serve as a special managing partner. She is a former president of Hewlett-Packard?s imaging and printing systems division.

If successful in tapping the local pool of high-net-worth individuals, banks and endowments, Village Ventures will close a fund upwards of $20 million within the next six to nine months. The still-unnamed vehicle will target companies in the lasers, optics, simulation software and life sciences sectors. Like the rest of the firm?s funds, average investments will fall within the $1 million to $3 million range. Unlike past funds, however, this one expects to lead certain deals and designate a significant percentage of its capital for follow-on investing.

?This represents a bit of an evolution for us,? said Village Ventures Chief Executive Matt Harris. ?We really got our start in tertiary markets and partnering with liberal arts institutions. This is a much different animal ? two to three times that size, a strong management team and in a secondary market with real academic research institutions. When we started, markets like this looked out of reach and already exploited by venture capitalists. But because of the retrenchment in venture capital, these are really attractive to us.

Carolina Braunschweig can be contacted at: