A Capitol Hill veteran, Ross Barrett navigated risk assessment and regulatory reform at the federal level before focusing his career on another arena where risks and rewards are prevalent: venture capital. As the managing partner for BVM Capital LLC, Barrett targets opportunities for his firm as he works to reinvigorate Louisiana’s venture capital and private equity markets through such funds as Louisiana Ventures LP and TVP (Themelios Ventures) LP.
[EQ] What are some key areas of focus for you when investing in Louisiana?
[Barrett] There are three areas we target: health care and life sciences, software/digital media and energy.
[EQ] What are some of the emerging opportunities in those areas?
[Barrett] In life sciences one thing is the emergence of targeted therapies. For example, Esperance (a biotech firm on the Louisiana State University campus) is developing drugs that target cancer cells specifically rather than cells in the whole body. Just last month, we seed-funded another company, K-94 Discoveries, with technology from Pennington Biomedical Research Center that is a potential treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Energy is an area where Louisiana can, and should, be a leader – not only in extraction of natural gas but also in new uses, such as the conversion of natural gas to liquids. Development of horizontal fracking is a game changer for the world: Louisiana can and should lead the way.
The climate for digital media and software is also unique. Louisiana has created an optimal business climate with its innovative tax credits, but on top of that it is a great place to live with a unique culture that is a draw for young, creative people. Just ask the Moonbots (Shreveport-based Moonbot Studios, which won an Oscar® in January 2012 for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore).
[EQ] What are the unique advantages Louisiana offers as a place for venture capital investments?
[Barrett] Long term, the Cyber Innovation Center in Bossier Parish is a truly unique asset for Louisiana in terms of software. The state also has a healthy biomedical research infrastructure with Tulane University, NOBIC (New Orleans BioInnovation Center), LSU Health-Shreveport, the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation, Louisiana Tech University and others to support early-stage firms.
[EQ] How has Louisiana’s investing landscape changed in recent years?
[Barrett] The investing landscape has absolutely changed from 10 years ago. Even five or six years ago, you did not have on-the-ground venture capital firms investing seed capital. Now you do.
I always believed Louisiana had the underpinnings of success, but it had been missing the venture capital base. That’s no longer the case. My firm’s strategy is to have an on-the-ground presence tied to deep relationships and an office in New York.
[EQ] What accounts for that change?
[Barrett] One thing is we’re starting to see the results of those early investments, and as we see more of that we’re going to see more success and more earlystage investing. It’s a cycle that takes patience and willing investors. The heavy lifting is always in the early stages, and we’ve been doing that heavy lifting for the past five or six years.
The state has a history of measured risk-taking and an entrepreneurial mind-set. Now, it also has a great business climate, a university network and an investor base. That’s a recipe for success.