St. Louis VC firm seeking more Columbus investments as first company speeds growth

An out-of-state venture capital firm is close to investing in more Columbus-area startups after watching its first investment here become one of the fastest-growing in its portfolio.

St. Louis, Missouri-based Lewis and Clark Venture Capital LLC led a $5.5 million round over the summer in Beam Dental, which pairs employer-based dental insurance with data from its smart toothbrushes. (The deal wasn’t announced until October.)

Ron Watson, principal with the $104 million fund who managed the investment, has been making monthly trips to Columbus since joining Beam’s board. Each time, he tries to schedule a coffee or other meeting with startups and VC investors. The firm sees many promising prospects in Central Ohio, he said, and has entered early stages of due diligence with one.

“From our perspective, Columbus is a really exciting market,” Watson said.

While Chicago remains the Midwest leader for venture investing, Columbus joins other second-tier cities with a great university and large corporations, which are talent pools and potential customers.

“Columbus is lucky and probably unique in some ways because there are a number of pretty mature and sophisticated investors as well,” he said. “There just aren’t many funds like Lewis and Clark and like Drive (Capital LLC) in the middle of the country. It’s a big advantage for the cities that house those funds.”

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