Business Background Helps New Venture Capital Association Chief
Topouzian, who graduated Wayne State University with a degree in journalism, instead walked a path into the business world and has found success along the way.
Topouzian took over as the executive director of the Michigan Venture Capital Association in March, following an economic development career that has taken him to the Farmington community, Novi and Troy.
MICHIGAN VENTURE CAPITAL ASSOCIATION
Tony Grover, the managing director of Ann Arbor-based RPM Ventures, agrees those are things Topouzian does well. Grover, the immediate past chairman of the MVCA’s board of directors, was part of the hiring team that brought Topouzian aboard.
Grover said Topouzian’s experience both in Novi and Troy were significant factors in his hiring.
“He’s worked with a diverse membership, from small retailers to Fortune 500 companies,” Grover said. “He understands these startups … as part of an economic engine, and how it can strengthen and diversify the state’s economy.”
According to Topouzian, there are 27 different venture capital firms in Michigan, with total capital under management of some $3.7 billion. Venture capital, he said, is “money invested in high-tech, high-growth companies.”
“Firms help entrepreneurs who are too early in their development to be able to get traditional funding from banks,” Topouzian said. “(VC firms) go in early with these startup companies and help provide capital for them.”
Topouzian called it a “trade organization of sorts,” advocating for increased funding and “telling the success stories. That’s something we’ve done a bit, but we could do more of, how venture capital affects the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Topouzian was hired in March, and admits there’s a learning curve. The appointment followed his time in Troy. But his career started with his own small business in the Farmington community, where he first got involved with a chamber of commerce.
“My entire career has been working with the business community,” he said. “What makes me feel good is a success story and helping business grow. If you’ve got a successful business, they’re going to put money right back into the community, and that’s important.”
“What it says is there is interest coming in from out of state,” Topouzian said. “But it also says there’s not enough money here. We need more funding.”
To help find it, Topouzian said the MVCA does “a lot of different things,” including the production of guides such as the Michigan Entrepreneurial & Investment Landscape Guide, a compilation of venture capital firms, and the MVCA Research Report, a comprehensive statistical look at the venture capital landscape in Michigan.
Grover said research like that is critical.
“The data generated in the annual report – I don’t think there is anything that compares, except maybe the national research report,” Grover said. “The MVCA has been a good, strong partner.”
Topouzian said the other way the group advocates is by telling success stories to legislators and to in-state and out-of-state venture capital firms. He said those stories are “important to tell” because most likely “they were venture backed.”