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GUEST COMMENTARY: Venture capital plays a vital role in the growth of our economy

Thursday, January 26, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST

The current presidential primaries have taken an unfortunate turn as the term "vulture capitalism" has found its way into the political lexicon and headlines. Misinformed or misguided candidates have managed to vilify an institution that could well be one of the best solutions to reignite our ailing economy — venture capitalism. My company is just one of many proof points that venture capital is the fuel of innovation and job creation throughout the United States.

I am a co-founder of Kansas City-based Handmark, one of the world's leading mobile app companies. Our company was initially funded by venture capital — financial capital provided to early-stage, high potential, high risk, high growth start-up companies. This description fits Handmark and thousands of other cutting edge companies to a tee; companies that would not see the light of day without the high risk venture investment.

My partners and I founded Handmark in 2000 and our subsidiary, OneLouder Apps, in 2011.  We set out on a mission to connect people with important information on their mobile phones — first news, weather and sports and later mobile access to Facebook, Twitter and group texting. Eleven years later, "app" has become a household word, but surviving and building our vision of a mobile app business during the early days would not be possible without the resources that venture capital partners provided.

Since our founding, our venture capital-backed business has directly and indirectly created hundreds of challenging jobs in the Midwest and has also provisioned millions of mobile phones with important information such as real-time news, sports scores, weather forecasts and social network updates. As we have grown, we have attracted employees from all over the country and recruited talented young people from local universities. It's likely that some of our key people will use what they learn here at Handmark and go on to create their own great companies in the future, undoubtedly with the help of venture capital.

These are huge benefits for our local economy and the economy of the United States. None of this would be possible without the resources that venture capital partners can provide. Handmark's venture capital partners, Apax Venture Partners, Borealis Ventures, Hanna Ventures and Motorola Ventures provide far more than just money.  Their principals have founded and grown great companies themselves and they continually contribute their expertise and advice to help Handmark successfully grow our business.

There are no guarantees for our investors or for us as entrepreneurs. If we were to fail, there would be no government bailout. These venture capitalists would lose the money they invested. Our team at Handmark works hard every day to earn our success and make sure our investors get their return. When that happens, we know that they will have earned every penny of it by taking an early risk on the undeveloped mobile phone market, an unproven idea and our optimistic management team. And we will both have added more jobs to our local and regional economy at the same time.

Venture capital is not for the risk averse. An equal number of companies fail to those that succeed. Many entrepreneurs, who fail once, come back again and build great companies. A majority of these opportunities are fueled by venture capital. It is impossible to live through a day without the use of virtually hundreds of products or services that were funded with venture capital. So, regardless of your political bias, make no mistake about it, venture capital is the fuel to building high-growth, cutting edge businesses which grow our economy. Let's be sure that this great engine for economic growth and technological innovation does not become another victim of a misapplied negative political sound bite.

Augie Grasis III is the founder and chairman of Handmark Inc.


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