We need more government incentive programs like the Angel Tax Credit in Minnesota
As part of my series about “the five things we need to do to close the VC gender gap” I had the pleasure of interviewing Bruce Langer, CFA — Founder and Managing Partner at EPIQ Partners, LLC. Bruce has been an active member in the financial services industry since 1993, including extensive experience in advising institutional investors and complex families in a consultative manner. He started his career as an auditor with an international public accounting firm and moved into investment advisory services. As an Evans Scholarship recipient, Bruce earned his B.S.B. in Accounting at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management. Bruce and his wife have three boys. Bruce is a committed volunteer currently serving as a Board Member for the Literacy Matters Foundation and as immediate Past-Chair of the Positive Coaching Alliance Minnesota chapter. Additionally, Bruce is a Director and Past-President of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association for the Western Golf Association / Evans Scholarship Foundation.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
I’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur and businessperson. My father passed away in 1980 when I was 8 years old. He was the kind of guy who would get up early and not just clear our driveway after a snowstorm, but he would help all the neighbors too. While the snowblower was technically and legally my mom’s, I saw it as my inheritance and took over his route. The difference is that the neighbors paid me for the work!
When the snow melted, the neighbors had lawns that needed mowing. A few years later, I started to caddie at a nearby country club, which is the best summer job for kids. It allowed me to be outside, learn the service industry and work for (and with) pillars of the community. I loved it and was able to earn the Evans Scholarship that opened the door to attending the University of Minnesota without the burden of tuition.
I earned a degree in accounting, passed the CPA exam and started working for one of the Big Six (it’s now the Big Four). With a professional foundation in public accounting during my 20s, I looked at a path toward investments. After all, the peers I knew in industry were crushing it in the late ‘90s! I felt that I was smarter and worked harder.
I started with a registered investment advisor (RIA) that did institutional consulting. I saw there are many ways to manage money and invest, and I realized I wanted to be in the seat making those decisions (rather than only making recommendations).
Moving through a couple wealth management firms with a focus on high-net worth and ultra-high-net worth clients, I started EPIQ Partners with Dan Aronson in 2012.
Can you share a story of your most successful Angel or VC investment? In your opinion, what was its main lesson?
Invest in people you believe in. This is more of a continuation of my origin story, but it does apply. My wife wanted to leave her high-paying corporate position with a staffing company and start her own business. We refinanced our house and capitalized her start-up with a meaningful sum from us that was matched by her business partner. The business went from $0 to more than $20 million in the first three years. The company is now 17 years old and employs more than 600 people.
Ten years (and three children) after my wife launched her business, Dan and I started EPIQ Partners. This was another start-up venture that is on a decent trajectory. So, the main lesson is to invest in people you believe in and believe in yourself!
Can you share a story of an Angel or VC funding “failure” of yours? Is there a lesson or take away that you took out of that that our readers can learn from?
Trust, but verify. There are a lot of great ideas out there and a lot of enthusiasm behind those ideas. You must create a discipline about how those ideas are evaluated. I once invested in a company through a special purpose vehicle that a friend put together. To this day, I am not certain what I ultimately purchased and what it may be worth today. Verify the details of your investments and check the backgrounds of the people you are investing with.
And at the end of the day, some of the best investments will be the ones you didn’t make.
Investing is hard. If it were easy — everyone would do it AND be good at it. In reality, even the best investors make mistakes that end up being extremely expensive.
Was there a company that you turned down, but now regret? Can you share the story? What lesson did you learn from that?
I am not certain there was ever an official “pass,” and we are often limited by capacity and bandwidth. Looking back through my folders of opportunities, I wish I would have done more work to understand Recovree when they were raising seed funding. Also, Unshackled Ventures is a VC fund focused on founders that are first generation immigrants that I wish we had exposure.
Ok let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this article in Fortune, only 2.2% of VC dollars went to women in 2018. Can you share with our readers what your firm is doing to help close the VC gender gap?
Good ideas get funded, and capital finds its highest and best purpose. At EPIQ, our aim is to invest wisely, improve lives and create opportunities by connecting people, ideas and capital. This purpose mandates that we look at potential investments with a curiosity of how the business could work and if it will meet the investor’s objectives.
It’s a frustrating statistic that is skewed by a few large deals and diverse founding teams (men and women), but regardless, one that has massive room for improvement. The question is what percentage of pitches are made by women founders? We need to encourage more women to take the entrepreneurial leap! There are resources, peer groups, mentors, funds and government incentives to allow for more funding. We seek the best of what’s possible and that usually includes diversity across all parts of an organization.
Can you recommend 5 things that need to be done on a broader societal level to close the VC gender gap.
- More female lead VC firms/teams (such as the Sophia Fund)
- More government incentive programs (like the Angel Tax Credit in Minnesota)
- Continued press and stories like this one/an informed narrative
- Success stories of female lead start-ups (see Recovree)
- Leadership by investment firms (regardless of the gender of leadership)
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’ve always been focused on the greater good. When people show up to be heard, the most common words are “I” “me” and “my.” What if we heard more “we” “our” and “us”?!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you don’t think someone is crazy, you just don’t know them well enough.” Take the time to understand the people you are partnered with. Motivation, triggers and incentives matter.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Every year, Warren Buffett auctions a lunch for charity. It goes for millions of dollars. It would be interesting to attend, although I think meeting Charlie Munger would be just as good, if not better.
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.