Interview with Mark Solon on VCIR Fall

The following is an interview with Mark Solon of Highway 12 Ventures regarding VCIR Fall, which takes place Sept 9-11 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Q. Mark, for those who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?

I’m the founder and managing partner of Highway 12 Ventures in Boise. We’re an early-stage venture firm focused on investing in high-growth companies in the fasting growing region in the country, the mountain west. I also used to have a pretty decent curveball until ‘cuff surgery a few years ago. All I’ve got left now is a decent wrist shot in our local ice hockey beer league…

Q. What’s your relationship with VCIR?

I’ve been attending VCIR since we started Highway 12 in 2001. From my perspective, VCIR in Beaver Creek each February is the premier event in the region each year. If you’re involved in any start-up activity in this region, it’s the “must attend” event of the year.

Q. VCIR is always a great annual event. Why was a Fall event set up for the first time this year?

After attending and participating in too many small regional venture events from 2000-2006 without the needed critical mass for success, I knew the region needed a flagship event; you know, a rising tide and all that. In 2006, I approached some of my colleagues who were members of the board of the Colorado Venture Capital Association to talk to them about the idea of expanding their footprint to become a regional association and to my pleasant surprise, they had already begun discussions about the idea. After the CVCA expanded to become the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association (RMVCA) in ‘06, I was asked to join that board and pleaded my case to expand VCIR to twice a year. I suggested keeping Venture in the Rockies in Beaver Creek each year given the national prestige that event had attained, but proposed adding a second VCIR event which would rotate around the rest of the region, highlighting all the other great startups in those states. For instance, each year in Idaho, we have a small handful of companies that are “venture-ready.” The problem is, we just don’t have enough of them to support a meaningful annual event on our own which would draw venture investors from outside the region. Other States like Montana, Utah and New Mexico were faced with the same challenge. Anyway, the board embraced the idea. Of course, it was like waking a sleeping baby; “you wake it, you take it.” Hence, I’m chairing the first VCIR Fall and we’re doing it in my home state of Idaho.

Q. How will the fall event be different?

We thought it was important to differentiate the two events somewhat. Venture Capital in the Rockies has always had 20-25 companies presenting with multiple tracks. Knowing that it’s going to take some time for VCIR Fall to attain the same notoriety as Venture in the Rockies, we wanted to create a more intimate feel with no tracks and everyone in the same room. Also, we’ve reduced the number of companies presenting and increased the content. We’ve got a handful a world renowned speakers. For instance, Bob Maynard – chief investment officer of PERSI will be talking about the private equity markets. Bob manages Idaho’s $11B pension and was recently named public pension manager of the year. Our keynote speaker is Wade Davis, a cultural anthropologist and explorer-in-residence at national geographic who will teach us about the effects of technology proliferation on vanishing cultures. When I saw him earlier this year, his presentation left the audience awestruck. Lastly, we’ve got senior managers from HP, Google, Yahoo and Amazon who will be speaking individually and on a panel together. However, the biggest difference will probably be the wardrobes. The overwhelming majority of folks registered have signed up for various activities the day after the conference. We expect to see more golf, mountain biking and fly-fishing outfits at the fall conference. Honestly, there may not be a more beautiful place in the world than Sun Valley, Idaho in September.

Q. Will there be two events annually going forward or is this an experiment?

The RMVCA is committed to putting on two events a year. The plan is to keep the hugely successful winter event in Beaver Creek each February and rotate the fall event throughout the region. We’ve already selected Park City, Utah for VCIR Fall ‘09 and we’re looking at places like Big Sky-Montana, Jackson Hole-Wyoming and Taos – New Mexico for future events. Lets face it, folks that have succeeded in places like Silicon Valley and Boston are flocking to this region because it’s no longer just the greatest place to live in the world, now it’s becoming the greatest place to start a company. The RMVCA firmly believes that we’re at the beginning of a wave of innovation in the region that’s going to create tremendous value for investors over the next few decades.

Q. Can you explain the transformation that VCIR has gone through from a Colorado-focused event to more of a regionally focused event?

We believe that VCIR Fall is going to showcase the rest of the region much like Venture in the Rockies did for Colorado. It’s evident to me that just expanding the CVCA to the RMVCA is already fostering a more collaborative working relationship among the regional VC’s. I know that VCIR Fall will do the same for mountain west by bringing entrepreneurs, service providers and investors together from throughout region.

Q. How is participation from out of state VCs looking?

We’re thrilled with the number of investors who have registered from outside the rockies. We’ve got VC’s registered from Boston, Silicon Valley, New York, Texas, the mid-atlantic states, Seattle, and more.

Q. What are you most looking forward to at VCIR Fall?

Personally, I love that VCIR gets us all out from behind our screens for a few days and talking about our businesses and our lives in a cool and interesting setting. The technology business seems to have less face-to-face interaction every year and I always see more business actually getting done in the weeks following an event like this. The energy from VCIR always recharges my batteries and reminds me how lucky we are to do what we do and be doing it in the mountain west.

Learn more and register to attend VCIR Fall from Sept 9-11 in Sun Valley, Idaho here. Thanks Mark!

file under: Blog, Startups, Venture Capital