By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
One would probably agree that Matt Dunbar’s timing could not have been worse when he agreed to become Managing Director of the Upstate Carolina Angel Network (UCAN). It was the Spring of 2008, and what is now called the “Great Recession” was fully in play.
“We hunkered down,” Dunbar says, preparing for what he and his collaborators knew would happen – a recovery. Today, after several name changes, UCAN is known as VentureSouth, one of the largest early stage investment groups in the Southeast. It has more than 300 private investors and has invested more than $53 million in more than 80 companies.
Three of those investments were made in East Tennessee companies – TrakLok Corporation which is no longer in business; Vendor Registry which was recently acquired (see our recent teknovation.biz article here); and Chris Cummings Pass It Down that started in Chattanooga and completed an $860,000 seed round with VentureSouth in October 2020 (see our recent teknovation.biz article here).
We had a chance recently to talk with Dunbar to learn more about the firm, its priorities, and how he views East Tennessee.
“We have angel groups in 14 markets as well as two affiliated groups,” he told us. The latest addition to the mix expanded Venture South into Richmond, VA (see our recent teknovation.biz article here).
“We want to be invited into a market,” Dunbar explained, but noted that having or not having an established group is not a prerequisite for VentureSouth assessing opportunities. “We are concentrated in the Carolinas, but will look at anything in the Southeast.”
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the firm now operates virtually, at least for now.
“We are agnostic as to sector, but we tend to invest in areas like software and tech, life science in terms of devices and diagnostics, process-enabling technologies, and enterprise and business-to-business,” Dunbar says. “We do not typically invest in consumer product start-ups, but we will occasionally get behind an opportunity that has proven early adoption.”
VentureSouth’s average check size is $500,000 to $1 million dollars in seed and Series A rounds. “We are comfortable leading rounds up to about $3 million,” Dunbar added.
In 2020, Greenville, SC-based VentureSouth invested about $9.2 in 26 early stage companies with North Carolina accounting for slightly more than one-half in terms of companies (14) and investment amount ($5.2 million). South Carolina was responsible for eight deals and $2.5 million in investments. The balance – four deals and $1.6 million – came from other states.
Dunbar, who was born in Memphis, earned his B.S. in Engineering at Clemson University and both an MBA and M.S. in Education at Stanford University. Later, he served as an Applications Development Engineer at Eastman Chemical Company in Kingsport and a Project Leader with The Boston Consulting Group.