Alumni Invest in Overlooked Regions and Founders with New VC Firm
Venture capital is the lifeline of many new tech endeavors. But venture capitalists have traditionally only looked to invest in a few places around the country: Silicon Valley, Boston, New York. And VC’s have tended to invest in a certain kind of person as well, meaning that only three percent of capital investment goes to women and minority founders.
Two Georgia Tech alumni, venture capitalist Mark Buffington (BS MGMT 93) and serial tech entrepreneur Paul Judge (Ph.D. CS 02), looked at that pattern and saw an opportunity. They have partnered to launch Panoramic Ventures, which is the largest tech venture fund quartered in the Southeast. And they intend to invest in the Southeast, in the Midwest, and in female and minority founders.
“The market has created imbalances, as markets do,” Buffington said. “We’re proving you can build great businesses with any type of founder in any region. We see you; we’re looking for you.”
Panoramic Ventures will also take a particular interest in technology coming out of university research. Judge has previously co-founded a company, Pindrop, that came out of the dissertation research of Tech alum Vijay Balasubramaniyan (MS CS 08, Ph.D. CS 11) and his advisor, Professor Mustaque Ahamad of the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy.
“At Pindrop, it was the early connection between entrepreneurship and investors that really helped build the company,” Judge said.
Buffington and Judge see Georgia Tech specifically as vital to their strategy.
“Tech is central and core to our ecosystem in Atlanta, but it’s also key to the whole southeast region,” Judge said. Alumni are founding companies in Nashville, in Birmingham, and other places, he pointed out. “We should start thinking regionally.”
Panoramic and Pandemic
Both men experienced a “massive boost in productivity” when they went remote, Buffington said. And both think that remote work, imposed on many by the pandemic, is going to push the tech sector away from its current geographical hubs.
“You’re starting to see companies say they have no headquarters,” Judge said, citing crypto exchange Coinbase as a recent example. “Do you want to be the company trying to compete for labor against a company who will let their workforce live anywhere in the world?”
The shift won’t be without its challenges, Buffington said. It’s still hard to whiteboard remotely, which he sees as an opportunity for a start-up somewhere. And eight or nine months into the current crisis, he sees “some level of degradation in our workplace culture.”
“How do you optimize productivity, and on the flip side how do you encourage the things we as humans like?” Buffington said. “That balance is still TBD.”
Together We Swarm
Buffington and Judge are both alumni, and they like to hire alumni as well.
“Not only are Tech grads smart and knowledgeable, they are full of ambition and hustle,” Judge said. “That’s an amazingly strong fit for a start-up environment.
“It’s hard to outwork Paul and me,” Buffington added. “I think that quality is specific and unique to Georgia Tech. The people who come out are hungry, they’re naturally curious, they are driven to solve problems.”
Those qualities also make good startup founders, of course. Judge advises students that if they want to start their own company, they should first take a job at a startup to learn the ropes.
“In months, you’ll get a few years of knowledge,” Judge said. “You’ll build a network. You’ll get insight into how to build that rocket ship and launch it.”
Buffington got his start working for big companies, and says that while those jobs are good, they don’t compare to the joys of entrepreneurship.
“The highs are higher and the lows are lower,” he said, “but there’s nothing more rewarding than self-actualizing.” And those lows never completely go away, he added.
“’I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I still get nervous,” he said. “Any time you endeavor to do what Paul and I are doing — well, if you’re not nervous, if you don’t have butterflies in your stomach, you’re not pushing hard enough.”