By Henry Mortimer, Editor-at-Large
What’s the formula for starting a successful company? Some would say, listen to the market to determine what product is needed. Others insist that if you have good technology, the right product builds itself. Ken Malone says it’s much simpler than either equation.
“If you have really great people, and you just stay to open to where the opportunities are, you’ll find them,” says Malone, founder of Early Charm Ventures.
And Malone should know. Through his Baltimore-based investment firm, he has co-founded and launched nearly a dozen new ventures in as many years. Besides having a knack for matching people and opportunities, Malone says his sweet spot lies in helping researchers translate scientific ideas into businesses.
“[We like] addressing that gap in early stage technology transfer, moving things out of the university and into commercial value,” he says. “We convert science into business.”
Malone says he got the idea for his business while at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned his PhD and then spent nearly a decade building business ventures and starting a research park for the university, assisting start-up operations using university technology, and attracting high tech businesses to the state.
“I got really engaged in [creating] early stage technology spin-outs” at the university level, he says, adding that after a few short years, he had built a portfolio of companies that were doing well. However, the winds of change carried him to Baltimore in January 2005, where he renamed the company Early Charm Ventures in honor of his adoptive hometown. But don’t call him a “venture capitalist,” not in the traditional sense.
“That would be a real misnomer for us,” says Malone, who describes his role as a “co-founder,” taking a hands-on approach to running the business operations. “Our initial investment in the companies is really our expertise. When we start these businesses we don’t really know what they’re going to be when they grow up.”
Early Charm’s current success stories include such wide-ranging enterprises as DiPole Materials, SciGenesis, VakSea, Asulon Therapeutics, and Tarsier Optics.
“We effectively grow a company from an absolute dream to an equity-fundable company over about a three-year period, essentially risk-mitigated,” Malone adds. “That’s a formula that works great for us and we continue to grow.”
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