New MVCA Fellow Will Focus on Transportation Mobility at Fontinalis

The Michigan Venture Capital Association’s (MVCA) Venture Fellows Program has placed a new fellow: Daniel Ratliff has joined Detroit-based Fontinalis Partners, where he’ll work on researching and evaluating prospective investments, assist in managing current portfolio companies, and focus on finding Michigan companies for Fontinalis to invest in.

Chris Stallman, a principal at Fontinalis, says his firm is primarily interested in early-stage startups working on next-generation transportation mobility. Established in 2009, one of the firm’s founding partners is Bill Ford of the Ford Motor Company.

“The story of Fontinalis really begins with [Ford],” Stallman explains. “He’s thought of as a futurist in transportation, and one thing that really jumped out at him a few years ago was how consumer behaviors toward transportation are changing, and how the population in urban areas is increasing.”

Consumers are thinking of transportation more multi-modally, Stallman says, and that means they’re interested in things like ride-sharing, peer-to-peer transportation models, and efficient mass transit. “We came up with the idea of an independent investment firm to capitalize on these trends,” he adds.

Unlike some other Southeast Michigan-based firms, Stallman says Fontinalis doesn’t have a “geographic mandate” to invest in Michigan companies. Of the 11 companies currently in the Fontinalis portfolio, none are Michigan startups. Ratliff, however, is tasked with changing that.

“We’re absolutely committed to evaluating Michigan’s deal flow and investing in a Michigan company,” Stallman says. “There are two trends that drive a lot of what we do. One is big data; for example, cities looking to glean more data about traffic patterns. The other is the overall proliferation of smartphones.”

Stallman cites Fontinalis portfolio company ParkMobile as an example. The Atlanta-based ParkMobile has created an app that allows users to pay for parking through their smartphones, eliminating the need for multiple trips to feed the meter.

Of the 10 people on the Fontinalis team, Stallman says everyone has a background in transportation. The firm is also “agnostic to the marketplace,” meaning it doesn’t prevent its portfolio companies from working with, say, competing automotive corporations.

Before coming on board with Fontinalis, Ratliff worked in the plastics and packaging division of P&M Corporate Finance, which is the mergers and acquisitions arm of accounting and business advisory firm Plante Moran. “I have a pretty good appreciation for the transportation industry on the market side, and I’ve lived in Michigan all my life,” he says. “Next-generation transportation mobility appealed to me because of that.”

Stallman says the MVCA Venture Fellows program is a good example of how Michigan offers unique resources to support VC firms. It also gives Fontinalis not only the chance to develop junior talent, but to use Ratliff’s skills to investigate startups in Michigan and beyond. “We brought Dan on to keep abreast of changes in the industry,” he says.

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