Colorado’s $100 Million, or $150 Million, Venture Capital Mystery

Call it Colorado’s $100 million—or is it $150 million?—mystery. That’s part of the mystery too.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on March 6 told members of the media the state of Colorado is about to create a $100 million or $150 million state-backed venture capital fund. The news came during a media briefing during a visit to the annual “Venture Capital in the Rockies” winter conference, held at the posh Beaver Creek ski resort.

For Colorado entrepreneurs who think the state has a VC shortage—and that’s a widely held view—it was welcome news. But after the stories covering Hickenlooper’s announcement ricocheted around social media and were picked up by local media, the story seemed to disappear.

Subsequent conversations with state officials, leading Colorado-based VCs including the manager of the existing state VC funds, and entrepreneurs at the conference suggest Hickenlooper might have committed a faux pas common at Beaver Creek by getting out over his skis.

First, a recap.

Hickenlooper was at the VCIR conference to deliver the keynote address. Reporters from major national tech and VC blogs covered the conference, and Hickenlooper met with them that morning.

According to their reports, Hickenlooper said the state is in the process of creating the new fund. It would make early stage and late stage investments and, according to one report, would be managed by the state.

Hickenlooper reportedly said the state retirement fund will be a limited partner, and that other investors would include tech companies and CEOs. Officials had created a draft plan for the fund’s legal structure, and the goal is to launch it this summer, according to the reports.

Hickenlooper did not mention the fund in his keynote speech, meaning conference-goers learned about it from the media.

Since the story broke, state officials have been quiet about the proposal.

No press releases appear to have been issued by the Governor’s office or any other state agency. The state Legislature is in session, but there’s no evidence a bill related to a fund has been introduced. The state Senate just approved the $20.5 billion budget, but the announcement from the Democratic majority makes no reference to the fund despite promoting other economic development initiatives.

Inquiries to the Governor’s Office have not yielded information either. It referred questions to the Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Neither provided details or a recap of what Hickenlooper said.

“We hope to have more details available this summer regarding the potential VC fund which we will share as they are available,” the office’s spokesperson Kathy Green wrote in an e-mail.

So, what’s up with the tantalizing mystery fund? Not many people know, including VCs and entrepreneurs who attended the conference.

Hickenlooper discussed the fund with reporters before giving his keynote address, but neither he nor other state officials presented details of the plan to the conference, according to Chris Marks, a conference co-chair.

Marks is a partner in Boulder-based Tango, a private investment firm. He also is a partner in High Country Venture, the independent Boulder-based firm that manages the state’s existing venture funds, which total about $50 million.

He said the governor and his staff left soon after his speech without answering questions.

“No one really got a chance to follow up and ask him to flesh it out in any detail,” Marks said.

State officials haven’t given other Colorado VCs many details either, according to Foundry Group managing director Seth Levine.

Levine learned about … Next Page »

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