Xconomist of the Week Chris Rizik: Who Says A VC Has No Soul?

Chris Rizik is one of Michigan’s most important and successful venture capitalists. He’s the CEO and fund manager of Renaissance Venture Capital, a fund of funds that is perhaps best known for its early backing of the medical device company HandyLab, a University of Michigan spinout that was later purchased by New Jersey’s Becton Dickinson & Co. for $300 million.

In addition to having a reputation as a shrewd investor and a champion of Michigan’s economic growth, Rizik has a longstanding passion for soul music. He’s the owner and operator of SoulTracks.com, a website dedicated to the music genre. (More on that later.)

Rizik, a Flint, MI, native who grew up in a musical family, says his appreciation of soul music began early. He was the youngest of six brothers who counted the Four Tops, Donny Hathaway, and the Spinners as favorites.

“The best concert I ever saw was in 1972 at the Whiting Auditorium,” Rizik says. “The Spinners opened up for the Temptations and just stole the show.”

Rizik wrote music reviews for the State News while pursuing an accounting degree at Michigan State University. He later picked up a law degree from the University of Michigan and landed his first job at Dickinson Wright, a top Detroit firm. He was there for 13 years as a pension attorney, but, he says, he always knew he wanted to do something more entrepreneurial. He started a new group within the firm to assist entrepreneurs and, a few years later, he got a call from his old buddy Rick Snyder (who was later elected Michigan’s governor in 2010).

“He had been at Gateway, but he was moving back to Michigan and wanted to start a VC fund,” Rizik says. “We picked up right where we left off and I helped him start [Avalon Investments].”

Rizik, who started out as an attorney for the firm, says that he suspects Snyder always had it in mind that he’d recruit Rizik to be his partner, but, “as is his way,” he waited patiently for about a year for Rizik to warm … Next Page »

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