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In 2020, EntryPoint had great conversations with 40+ thought leaders across the country on The Cackle and we all want more!  So in 2021, we are continuing the conversation with those guests to dig a little deeper into topics that matter. Like growing your network of amazing Michigan investors. 

Keep Cackling with Reilly Brennan from Trucks Venture Capital

I grew up in Michigan and love the state like a sports team. And while Michigan pioneered some of the alternative investment strategies that are now the norm (Sam Valenti III’s placement of state pension funds into private equity and venture capital many decades ago was unprecedented at the time), few realize some of the new points of view emerging among a new breed of investors emanating from the state. Here are some of the people I follow closely, yet aren’t often considered as the center for Michigan’s traditional venture capital ecosystem. Perhaps this is because these people all have a different point of view and a new approach.

l discussed funding and new opportunities in the entrepreneurial ecosystem with Emily (who was wearing a Trucks t-shirt!) on an episode of The Cackle, but I wanted to circle back with some of my favorite Michigan investors.

Some of my favorite Michigan investors are…

Dan Cousino and Tarun Kajeepeta | Piquette Partners

Dan Cousino & Tarun Kajeepeta

Dan and Tarun are a new type of multi-stage, multi-faceted private equity firm. They do complex real estate transactions, small seed investments in high-risk ideas and mid-stage deals in software startups. I once spent an entire evening talking with Dan about an idea to sell a new kind of botanical bitters — an idea he was going to launch with his equally entrepreneurial wife, Meghan. I’m not even sure I should be sharing that publicly but I bring it up to express the idea that Dan is both a boring old lawyer and a vibrant entrepreneur with unusual ideas following him around like a golden retriever puppy. So what I mean by this is that Piquette is one of the most unexpected investment shops in Michigan and I’m always curious to speak with them about what they are thinking about and what they are seeing.

Alisyn Malek | Commune Angels

Alisyn MalekAlisyn Malek’s range speaks to the kinds of amazing people you find in Detroit. She’s been an electric vehicle engineer, startup founder of an autonomous vehicle company, art gallery owner and staunch supporter of smart and equitable city planning. She writes early-stage checks in startups of all kinds as a member of Commune Angels, especially transportation-focused ones which is my main overlap with her. I met her close to a decade ago when she was at GM Ventures, and I was lucky enough to recruit her away from that job to join May Mobility as it was in its formative stages. There is something pretty cool about being around Alisyn, she has a kind of internal glow that just demands respect. This translates into a magnetism that founders love and people like having her on their cap table because of the experience she’s had. I really hope I can work closely with her again on one of our companies at Trucks and until then I’m going to follow her investments closely.

Aaron McClendon | Detroit Venture Partners

Aaron McClendonI’ve never met Aaron in person, but I follow him online like a superfan and have read closely his amazing newsletter, Faint Flex. Go back and read the back issues and learn about media-driven ecommerce brands (and commerce-driven media brands). This is one of the things about modern investing and venture capital — often you find investors have a strong point of view on how the future is going to unfold and they’re not afraid to share that publicly. He works at Detroit Venture Partners and because I’ve never met Aaron, this is my attempt to figure out how to meet him at some point this year.

Jason Townsend | Townsend Mertz / Trucks Venture Capital

Jason TownsendJason’s first fund, Resonant VC, became one of the greatest VC funds in Michigan history (and certainly in the top decile US funds of its 2010 vintage) when he invested in the seed round of Duo Security (acquired recently by Cisco for $2.35B). As has been said, all you need in venture is one 240x bagger, but who’s counting really. Jason has since built a real estate investment fund named Townsend Mertz and a few years ago came on board our team at Trucks as our CFO. He is one of those Michigan guys who lifts weights and drinks egg protein shakes so I’m always watching my language around him.

Turner Novak | Banana Capital

Turner NovakTurner is probably the most famous VC in the state of Michigan, but you likely don’t even know he lives in Ann Arbor. This is because Turner lives and breathes online, posting on Twitter and TikTok as is the life of a modern-day memelord. His new fund is called Banana Capital and has LPs from some of the most boldfaced names in technology investing. I don’t have a lot of investment overlap with Turner, but he’s probably one of the best people to follow online to get a sense of the wild wonders of the internet, tech, and culture. And memes.

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About Reilly Brennan & Trucks Venture Capital

Reilly P. Brennan is a founding general partner at Trucks, a seed-stage venture capital fund for entrepreneurs building the future of transportation. He has over 45 venture investments in transportation, including Nauto, May Mobility, nuTonomy, Roadster, Zendrive, AEye, Skyryse and Joby Aviation. Reilly holds a teaching appointment at Stanford University, where he teaches each year in the School of Engineering and the d.school. His classes focus on transportation, design and entrepreneurship.

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