Rock River Capital Partners LLC, a venture capital firm specializing in making early-stage investments in Wisconsin-based companies, strives to find great entrepreneurs that believe in the Midwest and want to partner in building billion-dollar companies. Andy Walker, partner at Rock River Capital Partners, shares his thoughts on closing the firm’s first Capital Partners Fund.
Q: Tell us about Rock River Capital.
A: We are an early-stage microfund focused in the Midwest, specifically Wisconsin, for Fund I. We largely focus on the tech sector, with a bias towards software companies.
Q: What can you tell us about closing your first venture capital fund?
A: This was a different fundraising process for both me and my partner, Chris Eckstrom. First, we both recently moved back to Wisconsin and were missing some of the necessary professional networks. Second, fundraising for a first-time fund is really hard. Although we have had individual success in our respective fields, we didn’t have a portable venture capital track record.
Q: What were your expectations and what was reality?
A: Fundraising took twice as long as we thought it would. We were overly optimistic at first. We discovered a lot about the Wisconsin ecosystem throughout the year, which helped refine our investment thesis and make us a better fund. After a couple months of fundraising, we started spending half of our time with companies and the other half with investors to be keener on where we could help entrepreneurs.
Q: What did you learn?
A: We learned that Wisconsin has a very strong culture of innovation and technology. We realized for most of the technologists, developing and executing on sales strategy was the biggest gap. We discovered that investors wanted specifics and not theories—specifically, how Chris and I would lead the investors and provide a better return than through their own angel investing. We’ve learned that our potential limited partners wanted to know what companies we have seen that were interesting and why. Finally, they wanted to know why it was a good time to invest in Wisconsin.
Q: How has closing your first venture capital fund impacted your future?
A: Committing to managing a fund is a long-term commitment. At a minimum, you are committed to investing capital for five years and spending that time servicing boards and working with entrepreneurs to help growth and exit companies. We have learned a lot in the last year, but once we got near our final close, we had to fully commit to the next 10 years to this pursuit. We are excited to push our chips all in and work on this for the next 10 to 30 years if things go well.
Q: Where is Rock River headed?
A: Our goal is to start in Wisconsin and expand to the greater Midwest. We want to co-invest with other funds both in and out of the state to create a larger network for Fund II.