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The impact of Mark Crawford on Nebraska venture capital

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Photo courtesy of Invest Nebraska.

In March 2016 Mark Crawford, CEO at Invest Nebraska, left to join Intel Capital in California. Dan Hoffman, Interim CEO, and Brock Smith, Senior Associate, submitted this article to SPN as a reflection on Crawford’s tenure.

In 2012, Mark Crawford, known for classy suits and a shoe collection that would make Michael Jordan jealous, made a leap of faith when he joined Invest Nebraska Corporation to manage the venture development organization’s deployment of more than $2 million per year.

He had spent the previous 15 years working on the East Coast in Boston and Washington, DC, as an analyst, associate, and managing principal for venture capital, mid-cap, mezzanine lending and leverage buy-out shops. At previous jobs Mark led private equity transactions in excess of $125 million and participated in many more.

In the three years preceding Invest Nebraska’s hiring of Mark, the State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI) reported a combined total of $11.5 million invested at the venture level in Nebraska, less than one tenth of Mark’s career total.

“Mark brought a skill set and knowledge base to Nebraska that has allowed us to develop strong internal systems and a robust future pipeline,” said Michael Dixon, Chairman of Invest Nebraska Corporation’s Board of Directors.

Over the last four years, few people have invested more time into the Nebraska startup community than Mark. He’s created a legacy that will impact the Silicon Prairie for years. Mark spent thousands of hours advising prospective companies on their business development, helping portfolio companies raise additional funding, educating co-investors to manage downside risk while creating opportunities for cash returns, and training the next generation of venture capital professionals in the State of Nebraska.

During Mark’s tenure, Invest Nebraska invested $9,332,200 in 51 companies which was matched by co-investors in the amount of $26,673,760 and followed on by $36,943,150.

“Mark navigated this environment with admirable discipline and tenacity and directly helped the Nebraska startup ecosystem advance to a more mature stage,” said David Arnold, Managing Director of the Straight Shot Accelerator in Omaha.

Mark fielded phone calls and in-person meetings with many Nebraska-based startups every week during the last four years. He approached each business plan with a critical eye, and a pointed litmus test that involved (1) scalability, (2) identification of profit drivers and (3) realistic entry and exit scenarios.

“Mark was someone who could be counted on to provide honest feedback to companies, something often underappreciated, but ultimately very valuable to those who took the time to listen and respond,” said Bart Dillashaw, a local startup attorney. “I will genuinely miss working with Mark. Nebraska, unfortunately, loses a person that provided great insight into business plans and market analysis.”

Mark helped many Nebraskan companies secure financing inside and outside of Nebraska.

“Mark was a lifeline to several local companies that would not have been able to continue operations without his support,” said Dillishaw. “By partnering with other investors on deals, Mark was able to bring new participants into Nebraska’s financing environment, participants that often would not have participated at all without his involvement.”

Mark strongly believed that venture capital would become more prevalent in Nebraska when investment returns within the state were clearly demonstrated.

Admittedly, Nebraska struggles with a longer startup life cycle than most venture funds consider ideal. This means that initial startup valuations need to be lower than on the coasts, or that the deal must be negotiated so that the investor can access its capital through nontraditional means. Mark was an expert at this. Invest Nebraska began to see the fruits of this labor in 2015 when it had three exits. 2016 is already shaping up to be a stronger year for Invest Nebraska, in large part due to the terms negotiated by Mark.

In addition to companies that received his advice and investment, Mark will continue to impact the Silicon Prairie through the professionals he has trained in our ecosystem.

“He challenged me. He frustrated me, and greatly expanded my view of the world. I owe Mark a ton for taking a chance on me and giving my first break into venture capital,” said Adam Hunke, former Invest Nebraska analyst and current operating associate at Nebraska Global.

James Ramey, a former Invest Nebraska senior associate who is now a vice-president at Tyton Partners, a middle-market investment bank located just outside Manhattan, expressed his gratitude for Crawford’s impact on his professional development.

“Mark is an incredible leader and goes above and beyond for his employees,” said Ramey. “I would not be where I am today as a professional and as a person if not for Mark’s deep understanding of this asset class and hands-on mentorship.”

Other former INC employees that Mark trained are working for Bridgepoint Merchant Banking in Lincoln; State Street Bank in Kansas City; Key Bank in Boulder, Colorado; Cambridge Associates in Arlington, Virginia; Piper Jaffrey in Minneapolis; and the Nebraska Business Development Center.

Those that currently work at Invest Nebraska, ourselves included, have received a tremendous amount of training over the course of the last four years.

“I am very fortunate to have had Mark as a mentor, and can comfortably say that any of my future accomplishments will be largely credited to his help and guidance early on in my career,” said Rob Allmand, current INC analyst.

While the community loses an individual with a wealth of knowledge, his effort to educate and influence entrepreneurs, co-investors and existing/former employees will continue to impact our community in a positive way for many years to come.

Thank you, Mark, for your time in Nebraska, and we wish you success at your next job in Silicon Valley working for one of the largest venture capital firms in the world.

Dan Hoffman, Interim-CEO, earned a M.A. Degree in Economics and a B.S. Degree in Finance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a 2012 graduate of the Venture Capital Institute. Dan has been the COO at Invest Nebraska for the past seven years. Prior to joining Invest Nebraska, Dan served as senior policy adviser to Governor Dave Heineman and Governor Mike Johanns.

Brock Smith, Senior Associate, earned a B.S. in Economics and a Juris Doctorate and an MBA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has founded several companies, served as legal counsel for a couple local start-ups, and leads INC’s due diligence and investment process in Nebraska-based startups.