Tom Walker revs up Columbus’ entrepreneurial ecosystem at Rev1 Ventures

 

Rev1 Ventures President and CEO Tom Walker scratches his head when he reads about a community that declares it’s going to be the next Silicon Valley.

He says it can’t be the next Silicon Valley because it doesn’t have the same assets. The assets that Silicon Valley built upon are exclusive to that region.

“Every region is unique, and so you have to build out of what is in your own soil,” he says.

Walker developed a startup support program in Oklahoma and set up entrepreneurship centers around southeast England before he was recruited to Columbus. The board of Tech Columbus was looking for someone who could set a strategy and build a company around growing the Central Ohio startup sector.

Each time he’s cultivated startups, Walker has followed the same principles. He looked at the region and assessed the assets, while identifying gaps that could be filled.

“For a startup and an entrepreneurial economy to thrive, the more you can connect those assets in your backyard, the better the early stage companies will thrive,” he says.

When Columbus called, Walker wasn’t considering leaving Oklahoma, but he was intrigued by the leadership that wanted to throw its support behind entrepreneurs with early stage companies.

“The recruitment team were CEOs of some of the largest companies or institutions in town,” Walker says. “And that spoke volumes around the collaboration that was here and the potential for more collaboration.”

After arriving in late 2012, he identified the region’s core assets — proximity to top universities and research institutions and a dense Fortune 1,000 base. Walker also assessed gaps in the startup support initiatives and found that entrepreneurs needed help attracting talent and capital.

“We did have an impressive angel network, the Ohio TechAngel Fund — that really was the main capital strategy — and so we wanted to build additional capital sources from that for entrepreneurs,” Walker says.

Rev1 Ventures — and its first seed fund — was born in 2014 out of those strategic efforts. Its goal was to create $2 billion in economic impact in Central Ohio by the end of 2019.

One-two punch

Tech Columbus hosted networking events for the technology and chief innovation officer communities and provided other services. Today’s rebranded Rev1 is more focused, operating as a hands-on investor studio that focuses on early stage, high-growth startups.

“I launched my first fund in 1999. I’ve been part of that investment world for a long time, and I’ve always believed that, in supporting entrepreneurs, the best one-two punch is providing the advisory services with capital,” Walker says.

A recent investor from California had a good analogy to describe the process, he says. You put the bumper rails up and let entrepreneurs find their own way through, rather than dictating to them.