More Than 40 Ross Students and Alums Join Forces to Form New Investment Firm
Linda Fingerle, MBA ‘13, floated the idea of a collaborative venture fund to her Michigan Ross Executive MBA colleagues back in 2013 ― and they were more than receptive.
Just five years later, Tappan Hill Ventures has investments in 10 early-stage tech companies, a growing list of interested founders, and more than 40 fellow Ross alums in on the action.
And it all began with just a small group of Executive MBA students, with Fingerle, a CPA with a wealth of finance and venture capital expertise, and Walter Sahijdak, MBA ‘13, leading the charge.
Tappan Hill focuses on early revenue tech companies that serve large markets previously underserved by recent progress in technology. The portfolio includes healthcare, security, marketing technology, industrial Internet of Things, blockchain, and insurance companies. Because they are very hands-on, the team is careful to keep the list short.
Fingerle and Sahijdak knew that to be successful in such an endeavor, a diversity of knowledge and skills would be critical. So they recruited a third partner, Carl Erickson, an active angel investor with a PhD in computer science, to add software and tech knowledge.
Fingerle says, “Choosing investments is always a unanimous decision. We have turned down deals and settled where we don’t agree, and I think that’s very healthy. It’s difficult, but we love the process.”
The Power of the Network
Tappan Hill Ventures has strong connections to Michigan Ross beyond Fingerle and Sahijdak. Of THV’s 75 investors, more than 40 are linked to Ross.
The EMBA network in particular has churned out eager investors. “It’s amazing how many accredited investors can be sourced through the EMBA program. Word got out, and now there are six different graduating classes with investors.”
The heavy concentration of Ross alums involved in the fund is a huge selling feature. Fingerle explains, “I get deal flow anywhere in the country because of the credibility of Ross.”
She also recalls an instance where she connected with an alum at P&G after reading his story in Dividend magazine. This led to an investment, as well as willing and brilliant talent to assist with due diligence.
There are also connections within the companies themselves. One deal was made with classmate and friend Jeff Mason, MBA ‘13, who is CEO of Groundspeed, an insurance technology firm. Fingerle notes that it’s “one of our best investments.”
Another company, Jool Health, was founded by Vic Strecher PhD, MPH, a professor with deep ties to the university. Jool is a health platform that promotes self-knowledge and positive, insight-driven change.
Leveraging Michigan Ross as a Resource
The THV team has had ample opportunities to apply what they learned at Ross. Fingerle says, “Young companies appreciate our knowledge and experience. Even as small investors, we’ve earned board positions.”
THV interventions have actually saved two companies. In one instance, the company’s founders had cut off communication. “We came in and played Switzerland and convinced them to stick it out. The one partner was an incredible marketer and found a buyer. It was sold to a growth company.”
Tappan Hill also helped to turn around a marketing tech company with a struggling board and governance difficulties. The three partners helped to bring in an executive chair who identified an opportunity for focus and product differentiation. Erickson, the non-Ross partner, was instrumental in this particular turnaround, with his domain expertise as the founder of Atomic Object. And the marketing classes that Fingerle and Sahijdak had while at Ross were critical in helping to evaluate the company’s pivot to a more desirable product/market fit.
“Marketing, finance, and business strategy classes have given us the framework to recognize opportunities in regard to market size, leadership, good co-investors, and raising money.”
Michigan Ross continues to be a valuable resource. “We’ve utilized the Kresge Library to research trends, and I solicit advice from professors as well. If it’s supply chain I’ll go back to Izak Duenyas or talk to Puneet Manchanda about marketing, and Tom Kinnear is an incredibly helpful adviser. You never feel like you’re imposing on them.”
Fingerle says, “In the beginning I saw a golden opportunity to stay engaged with people I really enjoy working with, who share a common interest and a goal of making money. It’s one thing to join a group, but it’s another to actually put money in it. EMBAs were believers and the catalyst that raised the fund.”