A quick peek inside Fontinalis, one of Detroit’s best-known young venture firms

Entrepreneurial 12-year-old Fontinalis is one of the first investors to focus on dynamism as a theme. This was no surprise as the co-founders of the outfit included Henry Ford’s grandson and Bill Ford, the executive chairperson of the Ford Motor Company. Nevertheless, the firm competed effectively against many Silicon Valley venture firms in the intervening years, as well as used its relationships with the automotive industry to invest and build an attractive portfolio along the way. For example, it was risky on Postmates, acquired by Uber in an all-powerful deal and in the Lyft.

It also supported self-driving startup nuTonomy, which sold auto dealer Delphi Automotive in 2017 for $450 million. Some of its new bets include Gatik, a startup that is developing a stack of autonomous vehicles for B2B short-term delivery; Robust.ai, started work on an art-grade cognitive platform for robots; And Helm.ai, the maker of driverless car AI. To get a better idea of ​​how a deal with Fontinalis makes it attractive, as well as how to ensure that a Detroit-based entrepreneur wants to work with the organization the most, we recently spoke with investor Dan Ratliff, who is on the firm about seven years ago Joined. Our chat has lightly edited for length. 

DR: I am a local Michigan. I grew up in the metro area; I went to the state of Michigan. I have been here my whole life without spending a year in Nashville for grade school, and when I graduated, I moved straight to downtown [Detroit].

DR: It is a Latin name and the name of an outdoor nature conservation club where Bill [Ford] thought a lot about conservation and spent most of his youth fishing. He also joked that there was no way to take this name.

DR: Very different Fontinalis design. We wanted to be independent, not the strategic VC or Bill’s family office, so from day one we went out of the LP and pulled 20 to 30 LPCs into our first fund, including high-value individuals, family offices, and some organizations. Ford did not even have an LPO. The company has since moved out, but is not in a majority position. We now have a handful of corporate investors, an EM that has not yet announced, and insurance companies. In addition, we have friendly offices with the mobility and transportation industries and they have a deep interest in how mobility develops and affects their business. We have raised $260 million across our funds to date