IVCA Q&A: Origin Ventures Co-Founder, Principal Steve Miller

IVCA Q&A: Origin Ventures Co-Founder, Principal Steve Miller

March 20, 2009

CHICAGO - “ Steven N. Miller, who is the proprietor and co-founder of Origin Ventures, has had a diverse and charity-oriented journey in his long career. Aside from having experience with Quill Corporation (his family's original business), he made an early venture into e-commerce that eventually netted a sale of Quill.com to Staples.

While Miller serves on the boards of a number of dot-coms and other businesses, he's also a prime mover in a number of charitable organizations (especially those devoted to bringing tech education into inner-city environments). The IVCA sat down with Miller to talk about a number of venture capital and other issues in the current economic atmosphere.

IVCA: How did Origin Ventures establish itself as an early stage venture capital firm?
Steve Miller: We have always focused on early stage deals ever since our inception in 1999.

We felt there was and still is room for more folks to fund seed-stage opportunities in this market. Bruce Barron (a co-founder of Origin Ventures) and I like to add as much value as possible to our portfolio companies. Early stage projects give us a great chance to do so.

IVCA: With the current economic environment, what adjustments has Origin Ventures had to make to keep developing and marketing VC enterprises?
SM: If by - œVC enterprises-  you mean our portfolio companies, the biggest adjustment we've made is to redouble our efforts to encourage the management teams to use their cash wisely. On the deal-flow side, we're tending to look for ideas that save consumers and businesses money.

IVCA: What does the term - œadding value-  mean beyond money when working with early stage companies?
SM: In general, it means doing anything in our power to help grow the business big and fast. Specific examples of what we've done have included introducing additional management candidates, bringing potential strategic partners to the table, rounding up syndicates of investors and even calling on customers.

IVCA: What kind of buzzwords are you hearing in the marketplace from potential investors in 2009? What do they mean?
SM: - œCash is king.-  That phrase can mean several different things. In this context, it means portfolio companies need to extend their runway as long as possible. It's very challenging to raise new money.

IVCA: It has been noted that you take more of an active role in advising management for start-ups and portfolio companies. What are the current trends in corporate philosophy in regards to creating a work environment?
SM: We try to emphasize open and honest work environments where the CEOs are accessible at all times to their teams. There is much greater transparency today in the workplace. We believe this fosters the right collaborative spirit.

IVCA: What kind of procedures does your firm favor to sort out university lab research into workable venture capital projects?
SM: One thing we do is rely on investor partners like IllinoisVENTURES, which has people on campus doing great work identifying fundable opportunities.

IVCA: What strategies or innovations can outside observers or investors look forward to from Origin Ventures in 2009?
SM: We plan to do the same things we've always done.

IVCA: What advantages does Origin Ventures have as a Midwest-based VC firm?
SM: There are very smart people working on great ideas in the Midwest. Our proximity as well as our network of relationships puts us in a good position to have an earlier shot at funding them than a west coast firm does.

IVCA: You sit on the boards in a couple not-for-profit organizations that deal primarily in introducing technology training to urban and inner-city youth. What is lacking most in those types of social economic areas in regards to tech training?
SM: Two things come to mind: money and expertise. One thing that's not lacking is the enthusiasm and resilience of the people who want this kind of training.