When CBInsights published its list of the most active venture capital firms in each U.S. state, Poplar Ventures came out on top for Kentucky. Louisville Future spoke to Christian Miller, a VC at Poplar Ventures to talk about the firm’s vision and what they’ve been up to.
What is Poplar Ventures?
Miller: Poplar Ventures is an early growth stage venture capital fund focused on making cloud software investments primarily in the B2B space within middle America. We look to get involved around the seed and series A stage, which traditionally means north of a million dollars of annual recurring revenue.
How did you get started?
Miller: We were founded by John Willmoth who helped grow Nextel from about $10 million in revenue to $15 billion in revenue. Then he took the company public. After that, he came back to Kentucky where he’s originally from. John joined Chrysalis as a Venture Partner for the 12 years thereafter and began doing some angel investing, particularly in the cloud software space before SaaS was popular. After making several successful angel investments in the cloud software space, including Zirmed [a provider of web-based revenue cycle management solutions for the healthcare business]. John decided to launch Poplar Ventures.
What’s the vision of Poplar Ventures?
Miller: Our premise is obviously centralized around finding good investment opportunities. We want to focus on geographic areas that have been underserved historically. We definitely love to support entrepreneurs in our own backyard, like Louisville and Lexington. We’re also seeing a lot in the Ohio and Indiana space as well.
How is venture funding changing?
Miller: There’s been a massive movement in capital over the last 18 months, with lots of ideas, startups, and entrepreneurs expanding in the direction of middle America. We’re a little unique in the fact that we are really hyper-focused on partnering with management teams.
Whereas a traditional venture capital firm of our size, in the $20 million to $30 million dollar range, would look to heavily diversify itself, maybe make 15-20 investments, we’re probably going to make less than 10 investments because we want to be hands-on investors. We’re adamant about partnering with entrepreneurs and trying to add as much value as possible.
What are some of the companies you’ve funded?
Miller: Podchaser, a podcast database, just closed on $4 million dollars in January in which we participated; Switcher Studio, located in Louisville [which makes live streaming software for iOS]; and SkuVault, located in Jeffersonville, which makes eCommerce inventory management software.
What do you see in the future for Louisville’s ecosystem?
Miller: We’re hoping to put more capital to work and support more entrepreneurs. Also, with support systems in the mix, such as Louisville Future, Amplify Louisville, and Endeavor Louisville, I think it’s going to continue to thrive and grow. And if companies with successful exits like ZirMed and AppHarvest continue to invest back into the community. It creates a flywheel effect for the next generation of entrepreneurs.