36 cities. 24,000 miles. One Airstream travel trailer.
When venture capitalist Paul Singh arrived in Wilmington, NC, on Monday his reputation preceded him. Partner at global seed fund and startup accelerator 500 Startups. Founder at Disruption Corporation, an asset management & financial services firm that was acquired by global incubator and seed fund 1776, where Singh then served as managing director for a short time. Publisher of Results Junkies, a weekly newsletter/blog where Singh compiles a insights on venture capital, growing startups, small businesses, photography and travel.
When Singh, his wife Dana and their yellow lab Jack left Washington, D.C. in March 2016, they thought they’d only be visiting six or seven places, then be home by May. The idea was to hit a handful of secondary cities within the tech world—places like Pittsburgh and Tulsa and Lincoln—where, as Singh believes, genius and potential are just as equally distributed as anywhere, but maybe get too little exposure.
So much for a quick road trip. Thanks to lots of PR and Singh’s nvite campaign, he’s more globetrotter than Wally Griswold. After almost 40 cities, Singh is still accepting applications for the next city to be added to his tour.
Having looped the U.S. and Canada three times now, Singh is embodying what he believes to be the current paradigm shift in venture capitalism:
“The venture industry is changing from a passive industry to an active one,” Singh said in his keynote on Tuesday. “We would sit back and say, ‘Hey if you can get to Silicon Valley or New York, we’ll take your meeting and then we’ll invest in you.’ That’s fundamentally what the industry says, right? And that’s why a lot of you that are building companies, you’ve had to get on airplanes and go somewhere. But believe it or not, I really believe the industry is changing. We’re becoming an active industry. We have to chase you down now.’”
In Wilmington, as in every city before it, Singh partnered with local organizers to create a week-long series of events for entrepreneurs and investors. Jim Roberts, founder of Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington, marshaled funds and thought leaders for the 40-speaker program. From promoting a company, to cataloguing statewide resources for startups, to identifying roadblocks between innovation and commercialization, to panels of local founders who have exited, to Fundraising 101, the informal atmosphere belied the substance Singh brought to focus attendees on closing venture investment.
“I’d rather just optimize for giving it to you straight and talking about real stuff, rather than just fluffing you up with a bunch of nice things,” Singh said.
On two separate days, Singh held office hours where any local entrepreneur could come to make a pitch and receive feedback and criticism not only for the pitch itself, but also how each founder perceived his or her own business. And, though Singh doesn’t guarantee investment at every city stop, there is always money on the table.
After the first day of office hours, we caught up with Singh to get his insights on local startups, Wilmington’s potential to become a tech hub, and the tour as a whole.
Throughout your tour, which cities or regions have pleasantly surprised you? Do you feel that there’s a common trend between these surprising areas?
You mentioned in a Results Junkies post that you believe that investors are now beginning a race inward from coastal tech hubs toward the Midwest. Are there particular states that you see helping that trend via their tax codes?
When investing in companies outside of Silicon Valley, what qualities about a particular founder or business impress you most?
You’ve already held one round of office hours. So far, what are some common themes or problems you keep encountering when talking to Wilmington startups?
Editor's Note: an earlier version of this story mistakenly omitted local organizers' contributions to funding and planning this week. We've included information that better represents how the event was executed.