“Great companies can be built anywhere, but from an investment thesis perspective, we’re looking for the top entrepreneurs in areas that are under-served by local venture capitalists,” Lee stated via telephone.
Lee joined Lightbank roughly three years ago, working alongside partners Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell, known for their entrepreneurial experience with Groupon, Innerworkings and Echo Global Logistics.
Prior to Lightbank, Lee was Managing Director and Group Head of Digital at Playboy Enterprises and a founding Partner and SVP at the Peacock Equity Fund, a joint venture between NBC Universal and GE Capital.
Lightbank has $200m under management, with $60m invested thus far in 64 companies. With an average check size of $1m, they position themselves as a “seed and series A investor.” Lee notes that Lightbank likes to be the first money in and considers their cash ‘smart’ — a value-add investor with respect to operational experience.
Lightbank’s midwest investments outside Chicago include Benzinga (Michigan), SkyVu in Omaha, and “other stealth companies.” He explicitly says that startups have no contingency to relocate to Chicago.
“Were more interested in finding great entrepreneurs tackling big markets than finding the hottest business model,” Lee explains, referring to their emphasis on the individuals over the plan. “Our guiding light is great entrepreneurs.”
Consistent with Lee’s assessment, Lightbank Associate Adam London has been visiting the Twin Cities to “formalize a better view of the tech community.”
“We have a long term outlook and are already starting to lay seeds in Minnesota,” Lee says. “This is exciting time as we get to know the area better.”