Report Index


Jack Ahrens
Founding General Partner, TGap Ventures

Jack Ahrens, founding general partner of the Kalamazoo-based venture-capital firm TGap Ventures, knows the value of mentoring from his own personal experience. Ahrens' first mentor coached him on the finer points of business and investing while he was forging a career in banking and equity investment. His second mentor was a seasoned VC who shared insights into making venture investments, building portfolio companies and achieving profitable exits while Ahrens was evaluating deals after segueing into the venture-capital industry. Now, with 34 years of investment and fund-management experience under his belt, Ahrens is volunteering as a mentor at the Zell Lurie Institute and finalist judge at the Michigan Business Challenge. In addition, he is chairman and head of judging at the nonprofit organization Great Lakes Entrepreneur's Quest. “Generally, classes teach you all the theory, but mentoring gives you first-hand insight into how the real world operates,” he observes. “Students tend to learn more from those real-life experiences than from a textbook, so that's the value a mentor brings to the educational process.”Ahrens helps young entrepreneurs understand business best practices, avoid common start-up mistakes and launch their entrepreneurial ventures on a solid foundation. His sage advice includes structuring a start-up company as a C-corporation rather than a Limited Liability Company in order to attract institutional investments. He also coaches student teams on valuation, equity allocation, internal controls, board formation, cash flow and alternative financing options. Most of the emerging companies Ahrens mentors in student-driven programs are seed and early stage ventures that are candidates for angel investments rather than the $500,000 to $1 million TGap typically invests in its portfolio companies. However, the firm did back a U-M technology spin-out three years ago. In January 2010, TGap participated with other venture-capital investors in an $11 million Series A round of financing for medical device maker HistoSonics. “Mentoring is fun,”Ahrens says. “I try to spend as much time as I can with students in Michigan to spur entrepreneurship and create value within the state.”