Rick Bolander: Entrepreneurship is a team sport

Rick Bolander (BSE MSE EE ’83 ’85; MBA ’94, Harvard) has devoted his career to fulfilling the entrepreneurial dreams of others as much as his own.

Rick Bolander has devoted his career to fulfilling the entrepreneurial dreams of others as much as his own. Armed with undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering from Michigan and a Harvard MBA, he embarked on a career that focused on growing new ventures and fostering new talent.

“I believe in the power of people,” says Bolander. “To get things done, you need to be connected to people. People are all different, and that leads to the opportunity for new thinking. You have to find the common motivations. It’s the start of trading great ideas and solutions.”

To get things done, you need to be connected to people.

Rick Bolander

Bolander’s views are built on his experience with more than 50 venture deals, leading over $100 million in early-stage financings in the areas of digital media infrastructure and applications, communications, information technology and the Internet. These have included AccessLine Communications (acquired by Telenetix), Chegg (IPO- NYSE: CHGG), Concord Communications (IPO – NASDAQ: CCRD), Exodus Communications (IPO – NASDAQ: EXDS), Neopath (acquired by Cisco), Persistent Systems (IPO – BSE India: PER EQ), Placeware (acquired by Microsoft) and Tut Systems (IPO – NASDAQ: TUTS). He was also an early investor in companies such as IPWireless (acquired by Nextwave) and Placeware (acquired by Microsoft).

He got his start at Chevron in the Systems, Planning and Development Department. From Chevron, he returned to Ann Arbor to teach computer architecture at Michigan, and then worked for AT&T in various operating areas, including marketing, sales and operations. While at AT&T, Bolander participated in the company’s executive succession program and received the President’s Award and the Quality Management of the Year Award.

Bolander launched Blue Sky Ventures, a Chicago residential real estate investment firm, in 1988 and grew revenues 100-fold. He turned to venture capital in his next role as General Partner of Chicago-based Apex Investment Partners.

In 1999, Bolander co-founded Gabriel Venture Partners, an early-stage venture capital firm to help build innovative, profitable and sustainable companies in the Internet, information technology, communications and cleantech sectors.

His newest and possibly most gratifying venture capital firm, eLab Ventures, gets to the grass-roots level of entrepreneurship. Founded in 2012, eLab Ventures is the only venture capital firm with two offices; one in Ann Arbor and the other in Silicon Valley, to capitalize on the best of each region to support startup companies. Four of their startups are spin-outs of the University of Michigan.

“We try to bring together the experise and network of each location together so it’s synergistic,” says Bolander.

ELab Ventures organizes and leads an annual retreat in Michigan for a targeted group of entrepreneurs, faculty, and business leaders to experience first-hand the value of different perspectives and networking.

“We give them a big audacious societal problem with a proposed company to solve the problem,” said Bolander, “and it generates entrepreneurial passion.”

We give them a big audacious societal problem to solve - and it generates entrepreneurial passion.

Rick Bolander