Customized Venture Platform is a Powerful Catalyst for Startups

Erin Henry, Sr Director Venture Platform

Oct 22, 2020

Great ideas need much more than just seed money. A strong ecosystem and community need to be built around the business concept for a new idea to take shape and eventually transform and mature into a thriving company. For a startup to succeed, founders need access to an extensive network of experts, partners, consultants and other resources to help get their ideas off the ground on the right footing, then move forward decisively with a solid plan.

That's the overall concept behind the venture capital "platform." A venture platform provides founders with new opportunities, insights, information, partnerships and technical support — vital services and resources for early-stage companies. The venture platform has become an increasingly essential offering to differentiate from the competition and attract the smartest minds and best ideas in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures, we've taken a unique approach to the venture platform. Rather than providing a boilerplate or cookie-cutter set of offerings, our suite of services and resources is highly customized to suit the needs of our portfolio companies. Each business idea is highly unique with its own set of needs – the one-to-one, bespoke nature of our platform ensures those needs are met.

Five critical venture platform pillars

Our customized platform is focused on five essential pillars that are the foundation of value and opportunity for the founders within our investment portfolio:

Leveraging Northwestern Mutual: Our portfolio companies have access to 160+ years of financial services industry knowledge and experience at Northwestern Mutual – valuable insights you simply can't find anywhere else. Our platform helps startups accelerate learning and connect to resources and other opportunities they might not otherwise be able to access.

Business development: When you have a tight budget and are trying to extend your runway as a startup company, access to business development resources is a must. Whether they come internally from Northwestern Mutual or externally through a broad network of outside partners, we work one-on-one with startups to identify ways we can help. This usually involves a mutually beneficial pilot program where we focus on developing their product or service, which may help solve a problem that Northwestern Mutual currently has. Sometimes it also involves connecting two portfolio companies with a unique synergy or way to support each other.

Talent and leadership development: Many of our portfolio companies are growing and simultaneously scaling their teams. To support a founding team’s development as they expand their business, I offer executive coaching and organizational effectiveness consulting. I also help them source talent through our networks. This benefit is always helpful because finding the right talent to support your business can be incredibly time-consuming. Without the right people to help you execute your idea, your startup's roadmap can slow down or even stall.

Marketing, public relations and communications support: Access to marketing pros is another vital pillar of our venture platform. We help our portfolio companies amplify their brand and tell their story. Our platform gives founders access to our internal marketing, PR and communications teams – early-stage companies rarely have access to this type of professional expertise without incurring the high costs associated with agency retainers.

Community events: In today's pandemic environment, live events have seen a slowdown, but we're pivoting to more of a virtual community event approach. These events are all about fostering the startup community, learning from each other and exchanging best practices. In the future, we plan to develop events that bring founders together to support each other and explore synergies. Other events will be tailored around presenting to Northwestern Mutual executives or learning from our internal team.

Going forward, we'll continue to evolve our platform to meet new needs as we add to our portfolio of investments. In the coming year, our goal is to create greater efficiencies and more standardization to enable self-service for founders, while still retaining our competitive advantage of customization.

Most importantly, we'll continue to evolve and build our platform to help grow some of today's brightest and biggest ideas.

If you are a startup looking for funding, learn more about our strategic focus areas and investment criteria here.


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