By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Monique Villa had never lived anywhere but the greater Los Angeles area until she and her husband decided in May 2017 to relocate to Music City to advance his career as a songwriter and music producer. Less than six months later, they had found and purchased a residence and were calling Nashville home.
For the young career woman, the natural question after the move was, “What am I going to do?” After all, she was very active on the West Coast, serving first on the founding team as Head of Investor Relations for Velos Partners, an early stage venture capital firm in Los Angeles and Singapore. She next ran programming for the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship Greater Los Angeles, which included “Startup Summer,” an accelerator for middle and high school students from low-income communities. Just before moving to Nashville, Villa had worked for Core Innovation Capital, a fintech-focused venture capital fund in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
She found the answer for the next stage of her career after making a series of road trips to Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Chattanooga, Huntsville, Knoxville and Memphis soon after arriving in Middle Tennessee.
“I took a bunch of meetings during those trips,” Villa told us during a recent interview. “I observed how accessible these cities are, but was surprised by the lack of collaboration between entrepreneurs in neighboring cities.”
As she learned more and more about what was going on in these individual entrepreneurial ecosystems, she also transitioned from being a learner to a resource, connecting individuals within cities as well as those in one community to someone in another.
That led her to ask herself, “How is it I’m the person making these introductions when I’m the rookie in the Southeast?” That realization, coupled with the knowledge Villa gained and people she met, resulted in not one but two opportunities, both focused on start-ups and capital. She is the Founder of ModernCapital, itself a start-up focused on growing the number of successful new ventures in the Southeast by promoting cross-regional, collaborative networking – among entrepreneurs and with funding sources. She also recently opened an office in the South for Mucker Capital, a Los Angeles-based venture fund.
ModernCapital is currently five females working together, supported in part by a grant from Launch Tennessee. That funding is helping underwrite initial pilot activities in Nashville for what Villa describes as a “marketplace for information and connections.” Her vision calls for ModernCapital to not simply be a passive resource, but an active participant. Drawing on the work of three Venture Fellows and a fourth who just graduated, Villa and her team conduct research, develop reports, and hold monthly happy hours in Nashville.
That, however, is just the beginning of her plans.
“I want to start organizing groups in other cities in the Southeast,” she says, building on the contacts she made during those road trips. As the group gathers critical mass in other cities, Villa says it’s a matter of “aligning interests” and creating synergies across the Southeast.
“I feel like I have to be a translator sometimes between markets,” she says. It’s about spreading the gospel to others.
The model that Villa is using is one she saw work in Los Angeles as entrepreneurs in the music, television and film industries began trying to understand the challenges or opportunities posed by those in gaming.
“They started inviting each other to parties,” she explained. “Diverse, cross-industry perspectives began to surface, and they found ways to collaborate. It just takes curation and work over time.”
Launch Tennessee is clearly a strong supporter of the ModernCapital initiative.
“We’re pleased to have played a role in helping Monique and Modern Capital build a pipeline for venture-ready companies in Tennessee,” said Margaret Dolan, President and Chief Executive Officer of LaunchTN which provided a Venture Fellows grant for research and pipeline support. “The program is a perfect example of how vital it is to provide up-and-coming entrepreneurial talent with education and practical experience — a key to creating a successful startup community across the state.”
ModernCapital is clearly Villa’s personal passion, but she also has a full-time job opening the first office for Mucker Capital outside California. Mucker operates an accelerator for start-ups called MuckerLab, and also makes investments in both seed and pre-seed stage companies.
“One of the Partners was a long-term mentor of mine,” Villa explained. She called him for advice on what she was planning with ModernCapital and, as they say, the rest is history. Villa will be leveraging her knowledge of start-ups in the region as she looks for investment opportunities for Mucker.
She says it is most likely that Mucker will be a good co-investor for existing local investors, and has the ability to lead, co-lead, or follow within investment rounds. The connection between ModernCapital’s community-building efforts and Mucker’s expertise is great leverage.
“Mucker provides a lot of visibility into the larger venture capital world due to strong connections in San Francisco and across the country,” Villa says. For start-ups in the region where investment capital is limited, that can only be viewed as a positive development.