VC firm connects tech startups with customers in the heartland

Max Brickman, Managing Director, Heartland Ventures

Columbus, OH-based Heartland Ventures is an early-stage venture capital firm that invests in high-growth technology startups that they then connect to their LP network of large corporations as customers in the heartland. We spoke with Max Brickman, Managing Director of Heartland Ventures, about what they’re up to.

How did the idea for Heartland Ventures happen?

Brickman: About four years ago, I started looking around at the businesses in South Bend, where I lived. I saw that there were a ton of businesses, often family-owned, that were successful and interested in seeing new technology. But it’s just not in their day-to-day operations to be going out to San Francisco or Boston or New York to source that tech. Meanwhile, the companies on the coasts would love to connect with, say, a manufacturing company in Elkhart, Indiana, that could be a good customer for their tech.

So you saw a disconnect there.

Brickman: There’s very little collaboration and communication that happens between those two groups. They really don’t interact very often. We started the firm really to build a bridge and get these groups talking to each other. There’s value in connecting them. It gives the manufacturing companies more of a voice by being able to have influence in the technologies that are getting funded. And it helps the tech companies find a market fit. That validation is a good portion of our due diligence process.

What’s the team look like?

Brickman: We have eight people on our team. The majority of the team is responsible for building and maintaining relationships with those Midwestern companies. We have 100 different companies that are invested in us and many hundreds of others that are not, but with which we have very close relationships. Our team is managing those relationships, understanding the opportunities in the industry, what problems they’re seeing in the space, and what types of technologies they need.

How has the company grown?

Brickman: The company has expanded quickly. We now also have a presence in Columbus, OH and Indianapolis.

Can you give us an example of a relationship you nurtured between a company in Fast Future country and one on the coast?

Brickman: There was a boat manufacturer in Elkhart. Through our connections, we were able to source technology that helped their core operating business, making them more effective and more productive. They invested in us but they were also getting access to this technology that was able to help their business. If this can create a pipeline of technology on the coast that’s starting to expand to the Midwest, that not only helps manufacturing companies in the Midwest get access to that technology, but it also gives those coastal companies an opportunity to set up operations.

Is it easier or harder to be in Indiana or Columbus and developing relationships with the coasts?

Brickman: I think the benefit of being here is proximity to the customers. At the end of the day, a lot of these technologies are selling into manufacturing, construction logistics—and a lot of those companies are in the Midwest. By being located here as investors, we’re able to have a deeper understanding of those industries. We’re much more informed being closely connected to the tech’s usage.

What industries do you currently concentrate on?

Brickman: Construction logistics, real estate, manufacturing, and agriculture. We’re just getting into agriculture as we’ve been seeing some really interesting technology in that space.

Are you feeling optimistic?

Brickman: Yes. Our first fund put us in a good position to raise our second fund, which we haven’t announced yet. We’ve expanded our relationships, our team’s growing and our network is growing. So we’re feeling very good about continuing to grow this model.