Dan Carr, who runs a little outfit that’s helped connect hundreds of fledgling Minnesota businesses with a few billion in financing over the last quarter century, plans to phase out The Collaborative next year.
Carr, 53, an amiable former CPA with his own entrepreneurial streak, is telling members in an e-mail message Monday that: “Even though I simply love the work of The Collaborative, convening Minnesota’s most impressive and up-and-coming entrepreneurs, investors and thought leaders … my family and I decided to bring this chapter to a close.”
In an interview last week, Carr, who is married and has two kids in high school, said he still needs to work but doing the same thing for so long and the recent death of a brother gave him pause to consider what he might do next. It could be business. It could be a nonprofit.
“I haven’t had a lot of time after The Collaborative and my family,” Carr said. “This will be an opportunity to take some time and maybe start another venture.”
Carr started The Collaborative as a newsletter for the venture capital community. He has built the organization into $1 million-plus business of several employees built around a two-day venture-finance conference in the fall and about a dozen other industry- and issue-specific annual seminars.
The future of next fall’s 28th annual Venture & Finance Conference is unclear. The Collaborative has sponsored it with the Minnesota Venture Capital Association for 27 years. The October conference typically draws 400-plus paid attendees and is the biggest-such bazaar between Chicago and the West Coast.
There also are several other small conferences scheduled for 2014 that Carr will run through the first half of the year, and he will continue to preside over a monthly small-company CFO forum.
Businessman Vance Opperman invested as Carr’s 50-50 financial partner in 1998 after Carr bought out a partner who wanted to focus on publications over conferences.
“Vance is in agreement with this decision,” Carr said. “Vance has always been supportive of me and The Collaborative.’’
Carr said the business is stable and that the decision was not forced by the plethora of emerging programs, such as Minnesota Cup and Green Tech and Tekne awards.
“Dan knows other people can take the lead in the types of programs he has developed,” said Michael Gorman, the veteran venture capitalist at Split Rock Partners and a longtime Carr confidante. “Dan was early in bringing entrepreneurs and investors together around specialty content. This has been a mission as much as a business. He never made it about Dan. Many people have benefited. And he takes a quiet pride in this.”
The speakers at Collaborative events have ranged from governors to Gorman, to the entrepreneurs behind Proto Labs, Compellent, Life Time Fitness and Xiotech.
They also have come from companies like Canopy — a start-up in its second round of funding that has built prototypes for something called the Sensus, a smartphone cover that turns the back of the phone into a second touch screen. It was presented last fall, along with young businesses such as Bloom Health, Kspine and Respicardia.
And there were some turkeys, too. Not every outfit that strutted its stuff at Collaborative events went on to commercial success. But they got a shot in front of interested financiers.
Exposure is the key
“You’re not going to raise $5 million just because you [made] a five-minute presentation at the Collaborative’s conference,” Phil Soran, a two-time entrepreneur and former CEO of data-storage architect Compellent, has said.
“But the biggest thing you need as an entrepreneur is exposure. Several of our investors in Compellent were on the Collaborative’s board of advisers. It doesn’t get any better than that for an entrepreneur.”
Carr is an understated guy who keeps modest quarters at the Lumber Exchange Building. He often wears jeans and rides his bicycle or takes the bus from his St. Paul home. Carr doesn’t wear a suit unless he’s mixing with the suits.
He loves to talk about business, but seems just as interested in discussions about faith, kids and staying warm on a winter cycle ride. He started out as an auditor with Ernst, then worked as an entertainment-industry accountant in New York for several years before returning to the Twin Cities in 1987.
“I’ve had a ton of fun because I’ve been with interesting people at the coolest part of the economy,” Carr said. “It’s a hard-driving segment of men and women — people such as Phil Soran and Brad Cleveland of Proto Labs and the late Barb King of Landscape Structures. And we don’t just set the table and buy doughnuts. People come together and we talk. It’s been a great run.”
There are an estimated 400,000 Minnesotans working in venture-capital-backed jobs in the state at any one time. Minnesota has been ranked as one of the Big 10 of states for innovation and finance.
And Dan Carr played a role in that.