By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
Matthew Kee knows the Midwest startup ecosystem.
He founded a venture capital-backed fintech startup. Then he went on to serve as the Startup Development Manager for Wisconsin’s third-largest city. From there, he co-founded an angel investor group, and has recently launched a marketing business focused on high-growth startups.
Kee’s startup story begins in 2014 when he began an entrepreneurial side project with his father. It changed the trajectory of his professional life. In entrepreneurship, he found his creativity and was energized by the “outside the box thinking where everything is on the table” he developed while building his business. It was through that experience he decided, “I want to do this for the rest of my life.”
Kee’s focus now is to help other startup founders find success.
Located in his wife’s hometown of Green Bay, the native Chicagoan relishes the hospitality he’s found in Title Town. He established himself in the city as a member of the Greater Green Bay Chamber’s Economic Development team. It was during that time he co-founded the angel investment group, Tundra Angels, which he now leads.
Tundra Angels invests in early stage, high growth startups across all industries in the state of Wisconsin.
The investor group was originally launched in 2020 by The Greater Green Bay Chamber as an initiative of its community-wide economic development strategic plan. Since its inception, the group has invested over $1.5 million in nine Wisconsin-based startups, including COnovate, Octane Coffee and Blue Line Battery. The active group has grown from six to 29 investors. In May 2022, the group became a privately held LLC, with Kee at its helm.
In Wisconsin, it is common for angel groups to require a company to have a lead investor before they consider funding the startup.
“Investors operate in a herd mentality,” Kee said “A lead investor provides validation and credibility.” He notes that venture capital lead investors often have sophisticated insights on the industry and valuation of a new company, as well as the connections to ensure the deal is a success.
Kee recommends startups work with accelerator programs before looking for investment capital. As a fintech founder he participated in two accelerator programs, gBeta Beloit and the FIS Startup Accelerator, and found the experiences invaluable. Kee observed that accelerators give entrepreneurs access to customers, investors, advisors and talent that would otherwise be out of their reach.
“Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey,” he said. “You need your people.”
The adage that angel investors invest in people more often than they invest in ideas is supported by Kee’s thoughts on the necessity of founders being able to tell a compelling origin story. He coaches startup founders to become “elevator pitch masters.”
“Your story gets you in the door,” he said.
In his role as the CEO of a marketing company focused on startups, Upward Initiative, Kee teaches his clients that a relatable message is key. He advises that before a pitch begins, the investors must know the answer to their key question: “why should I care?” But establishing the story is just the first step in finding investor funding.
Kee’s advice for founders is to come to a meeting with investors with an open mind. He advises founders to remain flexible during the fund-raising process .When looking for funding, “be prepared to brainstorm and hear strategy suggestions from investors.”
Kee said he “is obsessed with the art and science of how startups win.”
Reflecting on his experience as a startup founder, Kee said he “made a thousand mistakes and a few good decisions. My long-term goal is to equip early-stage startups with the strategy and tactics to win in the market.”