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Synapse Converge opens with advice for investors, founders in a COVID-19 world

Margie Manning

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Anna Mason, partner, Rise of the Rest, kicked off Synapse Converge.

As the world continues to grapple with changes from the COVID-19 pandemic, early-stage investors are open for business.

“There is capital coming into the market and venture investors are always looking for opportunity,” said Anna Mason, a partner at Revolution’s Rise of the Rest seed fund.

Mason kicked off Synapse Converge, a three-day interactive virtual conference with industry leaders organized by Synapse Florida. Designed to help the state emerge from the pandemic, the conference will highlight innovation that can play a leading role in economic recovery, said Brian Kornfeld, Synapse co-founder and president.

Brian Kornfeld

Rise of the Rest is the early-stage fund that’s part of the larger family of funds called Revolution, headed by entrepreneur Steve Case. Rise of the Rest, which visited St. Petersburg and Tampa as part of a statewide tour in 2019, has more than 140 investments across the United States, including 23 early-stage startup investments in the Southeast U.S. and five in Florida, Mason said.

“We’re open for business and continue to make new investments,” Mason said.

Kornfeld said local investment firms Seedfunders and Florida Funders have been putting their money to work.

“They’ve been investing in new upstart technologies that can help this new normal we live in,” he said.

Mason urged investors to not shy away from virtual meetings with founders and she offered founders some advice on meeting with potential funders.

“Be able to answer three questions succinctly:  What’s your cash management strategy? How do you think about offense and defense in the age of COVID? And if you are the expert in your industry, have a firm strong view on how COVID will impact your industry. If your pitch deck does not address COVID, you are doing yourself a disservice,” Mason said.

There’s extraordinary diversity among Florida startups, and statewide collaboration is a positive factor, she said, but the future of Florida startups is not guaranteed.

“It’s up to all of you. We’re at a moment where some are leaning in and others are leaning out. For us the critical point is that startups are the drivers of economic growth. With that in mind, we all need to be thinking about how we can lean in to support startups as we work through this recovery,” she said.

Mason cited sectors that are exciting to her:

  • The future of work and education reimagined
  • Healthcare, including opportunities in healthcare infrastructure, value-based care, leveraging technology to support seniors and their caregivers, and women’s health
  • Sustainability and supply chains
  • Consumer technologies that challenge assumptions about how people think, feel, fear, crave or reject on a personal level

She said the murder of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis and the events that have resulted from it have catalyzed a long overdue conversation in the venture capital industry.

“For far too long the industry has not done enough to identify and support entrepreneurs of color,” she said. “On the Rise of the Rest team, we talk about lack of venture capital by geography, but also not spoken about enough is even more sobering data about race. Only 1 percent of venture capital goes to Black founders. We can do better and must do better.”

Mason said investment in 2020 reminds her of 2008, when she was a distressed bond trader at Lehman when that company filed for bankruptcy. Working in venture capital is the other side of distressed trading, she said.

“We’re still making big bets. But to me the fundamental difference has long been that when you are working in venture capital and you bet on entrepreneurs, you are fundamentally betting on optimists — realistic optimists who are not only re-imagining the future and trying to figure out how to make what seems impossible possible, but also have that layer or measure of pragmatism, to put one foot in front of the other and build a team and figure out a plan and make it happen,” Mason said. “To me, there’s never been a time when it’s felt more important and more pressing than today to re-imagine the future and to figure out how to make the impossible possible.”

Synapse Converge will continue through Thursday. To register, click here.

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