Founder of First Check Fund Draws on Deep Roots in Seed Investing
August 2, 2018 | Abree Murch
Lynn-Ann Gries is heading one of the newest funds at Alumni Ventures Group, now one of the most active venture firms in the US. Her First Check Fund will focus on one of the most volatile stages in venture: seed investing. The mortality rate at that stage is high, but so are the potential payoffs. Successfully attacking it requires judgment, experience—and a philosophical mindset that mixes determination and pragmatism. Gries spoke with us about her background and approach she’s bringing to the challenge.
You seemed to have walked both sides of the fence with experience in large institutional IPOs and seed stage investing.
Yes, I’ve spent my career in the financial arena from investment banking to venture capital. I co-founded JumpStart, Inc. and managed its $30M seed stage fund where we invested in a wide variety of startups from medical devices to SaaS to business services and advanced materials. I also founded and manage a local women’s angel network dedicated to both increasing the number of women investors and supporting women founders. Before starting my venture career, I was an investment banker focused on helping companies access the public equity markets and achieving liquidity via sale transactions.
What are some of your past seed stage investments?
I’ve done over 80 seed deals—including the company that became Ohio’s first “unicorn.” Like any VC, I love to talk about the wins. Some of the companies I supported at the earliest stages include:
- CoverMyMeds — acquired by McKesson
- Wireless Environment — acquired by Ring/Amazon
- CardioInsight — acquired by Medtronic
- Embrace Pet Insurance — recapped by private investor
What are some lessons that you’ve learned about early stage investing?
Many! Just a couple of the key ones: At the seed stage, you don’t have evidence of traction, so you look at the industry, opportunity, solution, and—most importantly—the team. You also acknowledge that early stage investing inevitably comes with lots of losses, so you place a number of small bets and intelligently diversify to minimize risk. And then you chase the winners — always reserving some cash to double down on the ventures that are taking off. That’s exactly the formula that our First Check Fund is using.
As a woman in venture capital, have you encountered the glass ceiling?
Yes, I’ve bumped up against that ceiling both in VC and investment banking. When I started my career, I assumed that the smartest, most driven people would make their way to the top regardless. But as I moved along and became aware of the lack of women around me, I started to tune into some of the institutional norms and unintended biases that can exclude women. Venture investing can tend to be very male, very clubby, with deal flow coming from personal referrals—perpetuating the monolithic culture.
I’m proud to note that my parent company, Alumni Ventures Group, is aware of this diversity problem and addressing it on several levels. Five of their funds are headed by a female Managing or Senior Partner. They also have multiple female Principals (who help drive deal sourcing for our funds). And at the entry level, they offer one of the leading runways to the venture industry through a Venture Fellow Program, with 75% of our participants from under-represented backgrounds.
Beyond the diversity appeal, what attracted you to the role of Managing Partner at First Check Fund?
Throughout my career, I have worked with a range of companies from startups to Fortune 1000 companies. I enjoyed it all, but I’m especially drawn to the innovative juice and energy at the seed stage. I’ve spoken to thousands of budding entrepreneurs, so I’m intimate with the language and the community. First Check Fund feels like a natural home, where I’ll be employing all my skills, passions, and connections.
I’m also impressed by the resources and collaborative spirit of parent company AVG. My sibling funds actively forward deal leads, and we all draw on the huge network of 150,000 AVG supporters that serves as a source of investors, deals, and advisors.
If you’re an accredited investor who’s interested in next steps or simply want to learn more about First Check Fund, book a no-obligation call with Lynn-Ann.