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Q&A with EPIC Ventures on VNDLY Investment

In July, a Cincinnati startup co-founded by a former digital executive at Kroger made waves through local media after announcing its first, significant funding round.

The round was funded locally by Vine Street Ventures, but funding round was lead by Bowery Capital out of New York and received additional funding from EPIC Ventures in Salt Lake City.

In his interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier, VNDLY co-founder Shashank Saxena attributed part of his successful round to Cintrifuse.

More: Former Kroger exec’s startup raises millions, double what it was aiming for

“It’s a pretty big win for the local startup ecosystem and what Cintrifuse is doing,” Saxena told the Courier. “Their key thing is to attract outside investment to the region, and neither of these VCs (venture capitalists) have invested here before.”

Following this news, we took time to sit down with a Director of the EPIC Ventures firm in Salt Lake — Chris Calder. Here’s what Chris had to say about Shashank, VNLDY and everything else about StartupCincy.

Question: The big news with EPIC in the Cincinnati ecosystem has to be your investment with VNDLY — Care to tell me a little me more about that?

Chris: Sure! It started in July or August of last year. Our team at EPIC first got introduced to Sarah [Anderson, Cintrifuse’s Syndicate Fund Manager]. She was the one that introduced us to Shashank then, back in 2016.

We were looking for a couple of investments — we wanted to be in the grocery space and in eCommerce. This is when we met Shashank when he was at Kroger.  We knew right away that he was a thoughtful, thorough and diligent guy. We walked out of Cincinnati saying ‘we should track this guy.’

Then it was two months ago when we checked back in and saw that Shashank was at his own business. From there, it was pretty straightforward. We got in.

Q: So what do you like about the Cincinnati area, now that you’re spending time and dollars in the region?

C: There are tons of resources there. And there’s not a lot of local capital. This makes our investment that much more valuable.

More so than ever in the history of venture capital, people are looking to Cincinnati and places like it. People are flying to these places and people are actively investing.

Q: What about this area makes it more unique than, say, any other Midwestern city?

C: One thing that sticks out — more so than most cities — there are large enterprises within just blocks of each other. This is why we immediately started to look for companies in your city that sell into the C-suite of those office buildings. We were saying, “where better than Cincinnati?’ We are feeling bullish on the city and the region now.

Q: So how does our region get better?

C: Certainly the venture dollars won’t come without the deal flow. We look at underserved markets all the time. When you look at the middle of America and you look at the stuff that you need to improve upon — this is it.

In Cincinnati you can see the deal flow starting to happen. But now, it’s time for the next step — you’ve got to grow them — we’ve got to turn businesses into a unicorn.

Q: What else jumps out at you when you think about Cincinnati?

A: Something you might forget about when you’re not out west or in Salt Lake City like us — the relative proximity of other big cities like Chicago, Columbus, and Cleveland. Also, to the East Coast. You’re right there when VCs like us are flying across the country anyways. It’s “strategically” placed.

Q: So what’s next with VNDLY?

C: The focus now is finding those first couple of reference customers. We need that social proof. Our focus is working with our LPs to get VNDLY installed. Shashank is a sophisticated manager. We have great confidence in him.

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