Matt Dunbar of Upstate Carolina Angel Network and VentureSouth Talks about Venture Capital

Mollee D. Harper

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

We sat down with Matt Dunbar, Managing Director of Upstate Carolina Angel Network and VentureSouth. We learned about this investment group supporting and funding many entrepreneurs and startups in the southeast over the past eight years. Dunbar explains how he and his partners have expanded from a single investor group in Greenville to several groups and funds serving entrepreneurs and startups throughout the Carolinas under the name VentureSouth. 

Dunbar shared, “All net job growth comes from young high-growth companies. If we want long term sustainable job growth in our markets, we need to continue cultivating an entrepreneurial ecosystem and support those startups with capital. We want to attract, retain and grow entrepreneurs.”

“I’m the managing director of the Upstate Carolina Angel Network and partnered with Charlie Banks and Paul Clark to launch VentureSouth in 2014. We added a fourth partner, Mac Lackey, in North Carolina in 2016.” He said.

The Upstate Carolina Angel Network (UCAN) is a group of investors in Upstate South Carolina who support early-stage, high-growth ventures in the Southeastern United States with capital and expertise. UCAN was named a Top 10 Angel Group by CB Insights in 2014.

Dunbar explained, “In 2008, the Upstate Carolina Angel Network launched as a local angel investor group in Greenville, and I was hired as the managing director. We started that local group just before the financial crisis, and given the economic situation at the time, investments were somewhat slow in the beginning. As the recovery picked up, so did our investment activity.” 

“Since then we’ve been working to expand our local model and create economies of scale by bringing in more investors. We began that effort by launching new groups in communities that asked for our assistance, beginning with Columbia and Ashville in 2014. We added several more groups in 2015 and 2016, with our latest in Charlotte, and we now manage 11 angel groups and 2 funds.  All of our angel groups have a local name that helps them connect in their community, but we tie them together under the VentureSouth brand we launched last summer.” He said.

VentureSouth manages angel investor groups and funds that in invest in promising early stage ventures in the Southeast. The network of more than 200 investors has invested $20 million in more than 50 companies since UCAN launched in Greenville in 2008.

Dunbar described, “UCAN is primarily a Greenville group but does attract investors from a few other surrounding areas (we also have groups in Spartanburg and Anderson in the Upstate). We have about 50 members who meet monthly to listen to new pitches and review diligence reports on companies that were voted forward in our process.  No member is obligated to invest at any time, but if there’s sufficient interest, we pool our investors’ capital to make an investment.”

“We’ve seen over 1,800 requests for funding and more than 170 companies have been invited to make a presentation. We’ve now invested in 55 companies in 95 rounds of capital. To date we’ve fully realized positive exits on 11 rounds, generated partial returns on several others, and 70% of our capital is still actively deployed.” Dunbar described.

Dunbar concluded, “We’re always seeking more members, not only because of the capital they provide, but just as importantly because they bring deep experience and expertise to the table as well.  And for those who have not invested in early stage companies before, we provide investor education on a regular basis.  Our model allows them to ‘Make money. Have fun.  Do good.’

By facilitating capital formation in an engaging, intellectually stimulating way for investors, we are helping to support companies that create jobs and value and wealth.  We think of it in terms of the Jim Collins flywheel effect.  The more momentum we build with investments that lead to returns, the more capital and know-how is reinvested in helping more companies start and grow, which accelerates the flywheel – which is good for entrepreneurs, investors and our communities.    

Dunbar has served as Co-Founder and Managing Director for VentureSouth since 2014, and Managing Director for Upstate Carolina Angel Network since 2008. He also serves as one of the General Partners who manages the two funds for the network - Palmetto Angel Fund and VentureSouth Angel Fund II. Dunbar serves on the Board of Directors for Entegra Bank, CIRTEMO, The Angel Capital Association and Junior Achievement of Upstate South Carolina. He is a Visiting Lecturer for Clemson University MBA Programs in Managerial Economics and Venture Finance.  

Dunbar described his start. He said, “It was pure serendipity. I trained as a chemical engineer initially and worked in that field several years before going back to school to earn an MBA. Then I worked as a management consultant for three years in Atlanta, but I always wanted to come back to South Carolina, so in early 2008 my wife and I decided to make the move. I started looking for opportunities in Greenville and I happened to meet JB Holeman at a business luncheon and learned that he was working with Tim Reed to start an angel group.  Although I didn’t have a venture capital background, the UCAN board ultimately took a chance on me, and for that I’m very grateful.

Dunbar graduated from Stanford University School of Business with his MBA/MEd in General Management and Education. He received his BS in Chemical Engineering from Clemson University where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and served as Student Body President.

He was recognized by Greenville Business Magazine as one of Greenville’s 50 Most Influential and Greenville’s Best & Brightest 35 and Under.