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Published: Saturday, 1/11/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Rocket Ventures splits from UT

BY KRIS TURNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Rocket Ventures LLC, a local venture-capital firm partially funded with taxpayer dollars, is severing ties with the University of Toledo in an effort to bolster business across the entire northwest Ohio region.

The move comes a year after Rocket Ventures accepted a $2 million, two-year grant from Ohio’s Third Frontier Commission, which stipulated that the organization expand its scope beyond Toledo.

Rocket Ventures currently funds 19 start-up companies and consults with about 50 firms each year on how to improve their business plans. It announced this week that it was no longer co-owned by the University of Toledo Innovation Enterprises.

Rocket Ventures now is solely owned by the Regional Growth Partnership, which promotes the growth of industry in northwest Ohio. The Regional Growth Partnership formed Rocket Ventures in 2007.

“It’s just the evolution of the program,” said John Gibney, vice president of marketing and communications for the Regional Growth Partnership. “There’s feedback we were getting from the state that this has to be viewed and seen as a completely regional program that services not just Toledo proper or Lucas County but our 17-county footprint.”

State officials told Rocket Ventures in fall, 2012, to restructure or it could lose out on a portion of the $2 million grant in 2014. The organization worked with Third Frontier throughout 2013 to retool its operations, said Harlan Reichle, chairman of the Regional Growth Partnership.

“We spent a good portion of this last year working to get the state to approve our scope of work, and they sent us back to the drawing board a couple of times to refine how we were proposing to handle the grant,” Mr. Reichle said.

Rocket Ventures plans to review how other organizations across the state are using Third Frontier funding and establish a set of best practices, he said.

A 2012 report commissioned by the Third Frontier stated that a third of Rocket Venture’s clients had ceased operations and that it had a “small collaborator network for deal flow and little experience with commercialization.”

Todd Walker, a spokesman for the Ohio Development Services Agency, which works with the Third Frontier, said the concerns about Rocket Ventures have been addressed and he’s optimistic about its performance in 2014 and beyond.

Rick Stansley, a former Rocket Ventures board member and chairman of the University of Toledo Innovation Enterprises, which funds the development of early-stage technology and start-up companies, said the scope of the two organizations has grown apart over time. He did note, however, they would continue to assist each other if they come across opportunities that would be ripe for one another.

“The Third Frontier, from the very beginning, anticipated a 17-country, regional approach for Rocket Ventures,” Mr. Stansley said. “It was one of the areas that we were criticized on and we developed a plan to address that.

“One thing we felt we needed to do,” he said, “was become less concentrated at the university.”

Kris Turner can be reached at: kturner@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.



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