COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST)–With some $90 million under management, Heartland Ventures has started investing from a second fund to bring technology from coastal startups to business customers in the Midwest.
The venture capital firm opens a headquarters in Easton next month, serving as a collaborative meeting space for its distributed team of eight plus a temporary base for portfolio startups making sales trips or setting up Midwest operations near clients.
“The majority of our portfolio either has or is hiring teams in Ohio,” founder and CEO Max Brickman said. “They can start working from our office.”
Brickman founded Heartland in South Bend, Indiana, while his wife was pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology and since 2019 has split time between the two cities. Haley Brickman now is a research fellow at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The couple moved to Columbus permanently at the end of 2019 and now lives in German Village.
“People have been incredibly welcoming,” Max Brickman said. “We looked at 15 cities around the Midwest. It was the most welcoming, the most collaborative, very much on the rise.”
Brickman, 29, last week was named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in venture capital. The magazine also named him in its inaugural list of entrepreneurs to watch this year. Last year, he was an honoree for executive of the year in Columbus Business First’s BizTech awards.
Most of Heartland’s limited partner investors are based in Ohio and neighboring states, including several manufacturers. Heartland then introduces them to digital tools from California and New York startups.
“They don’t have the resources to allocate to see new technology,” Brickman said. “We act as their outsourced R&D in a lot of ways.”
Its latest investment is in ProjectMark, a Silicon Valley startup that digitizes bid documents for architecture and engineering firms, enabling them to compete for twice as many jobs.
Heartland was among several investors participating in a $10 million Series A, led by Founders Fund, in Palo Alto-based Workstream, a text-based hiring platform for restaurants, manufacturers, and others to digitize the recruiting and onboarding of hourly workers.
The firm introduced Workstream founder CEO Desmond Lim to 12 Midwestern manufacturers. Originally from Singapore, with degrees from Harvard University and MIT, Lim otherwise would not have looked at the region, Brickman said.
“He left with 11 signed contracts,” Brickman said.
Brickman maintains that promoting a strategic location near customers is an alternative to tax breaks as a business attraction tool.
The first fund already has had some exits: In July, Versaterm Public Safety acquired portfolio company Spidr Tech, a customer service platform for law enforcement, for undisclosed terms.
Heartland has worked its Midwest magnet on its own staff, too. Hannah Wexner moved back to Columbus in the spring to join as associate director of community development. The daughter of Les and Abigail Wexner had worked the past eight years in Boston.
“Her story of coming back to Columbus is a good one,” Brickman said.
Wexner has changed her mind about needing “proximity to an ocean” for the best career opportunities, she wrote in a blog post about why she joined the firm.
“Heartland connects legacy businesses in the Midwest with technologies necessary to be resilient in an interdependent global economy,” she wrote. “Heartland’s mission fundamentally rejects the notion that success must be won by way of another’s defeat.”
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