The Puget Sound region is renowned worldwide for being a center of innovation. More recently, it’s becoming known for its wildly understated startup scene, too. Indeed, the Puget Sound is a place where ingenuity, forward-thinking, and boldness drive people to build great things.
But building a startup comes with costs. And while there are lots of approaches to funding a fledgling company, venture funding is a popular and powerful force in the startup world.
That’s why we sat down with Dennis Joyce, Director of Investments at the Tacoma Venture Fund, to learn more about the Tacoma Venture Fund and its vision for supporting startups right here in our local community.
As Director of Investments at the Tacoma Venture Fund, Dennis and his colleagues support a thriving South Sound venture ecosystem by connecting investment capital with exceptional founders.
Tell us your story. How did Tacoma Venture Fund (TVF) come to be?
Dennis: TVF started in early 2020 as a way of having a venture capital solution originating out of the South Sound, featuring investors based in the South Sound and investing a good portion of their capital in an around the South Sound. I had been an active investor for the past 10 years as an angel and was looking for an opportunity to be part of a firm. I was lucky enough to connect with Bill Driscoll on the idea and we teamed up to get started.
What is the Tacoma Venture Fund looking for when it comes to potential people or projects to invest in? What would you like to be involved in?
Dennis: We are looking for entrepreneurs building companies based in and around the South Sound with excellent growth potential that are capable of getting to $10M in yearly revenue within a 5-10 year timeframe. We are “sector agnostic” so we are really just looking for growth potential.
Why are you and TVF focused on Kitsap?
Dennis: We are based in Tacoma and view Kitsap county as being under-developed as far as capital is concerned. We feel there are a lot of entrepreneurs in the area with great potential, and we’d love to invest in them.
You’ve been a mentor and advisor to many Kitsap startups to date. Can you share a little bit about that work, what it’s been like, and why you do it?
Dennis: I’ve always dedicated time to up and coming entrepreneurs that are building potentially great companies. It’s a little like scouting a company before they are ready to raise. I can help answer questions to make the transition to raising capital easier and smoother. This is a hard industry to crack into, so anything I can do to help speed the process and generate better outcomes is important to me.
You’re also a board member of the Washington chapter of Defy Ventures. Can you share a bit about your work there?
Dennis: Defy Ventures WA is an organization that works with incarcerated individuals to help them develop a life plan for themselves during and after their incarceration. I have helped mentor individuals over the past few years. Eventually, I would like to use my platform at TVF to help provide support to entrepreneurs who have been previously incarcerated and to dispel the many myths and misconceptions, and barriers to successful reentry that prisoners face.
Why are coworking spaces important in the startup community?
Dennis: Coworking spaces provide resources and community to entrepreneurs that is cost-efficient and supportive. Looking back at my time as an entrepreneur, I suffered due to a lack of connection with other smart and energetic people. I did not have the growth and money and resources to hire, and I yearned for a connection with other like-minded entrepreneurs. A coworking space provides those resources and much more.
How do you think coworking spaces and other community spaces can do more to support a startup culture in their local communities?
Dennis: I think skill-building classes, office hours with investors and other service providers are important. If you can’t handle basic tasks like building a great pitch deck, designing, building, and marketing a product, you lose a lot of precious time as an entrepreneur. A great coworking space can conceivably help with a lot of the startup growing pains and issues and save that time. The faster and more efficiently we can get a product to market, the faster we get to revenue.
Is there anything else you want people to know about investing and the startup world?
Dennis: I think there is a misconception that investors are hard to find or that we enjoy rejecting ideas and minimizing entrepreneurs. It’s possible that there are investors who are like that in the ecosystem and you want to avoid them. I hope at TVF we are easy to find and entrepreneurs feel comfortable reaching out to us and having an early conversation with us. It takes a few different touchpoints for us to come in and become investors. The goal of an early meeting is to get notes and feedback in advance of the next meeting and get close to an investment. It’s a process and well worth it if you are willing to invest in that process. Good luck to all the entrepreneurs out there and feel free to connect with me via email, referencing “Vibe” in the subject line.