Q&A: Chris Thomas
Chris Thomas is a co-founder of Fontinalis Partners, a venture capital firm in downtown Detroit focused exclusively on investing in technology companies that improve next-generation mobility.
On the pursuit of startups:
When someone asks me, “What are the first three things you look for?” in a new company you’re investing in, I think the answer is, “Team, team, and team.” And then you’re looking for a great business plan and tremendous experience, great academic backgrounds, and a tremendous amount of passion. But the men and women who make up that founding team are just as, if not more, important than everything else.
On Fontinalis Partners’ interactions with Silicon Valley:
We’re invested in 40-plus companies around the globe, many of which are headquartered in Silicon Valley. Whether we’re engaging with young startups that are just starting on the road to building a company or with large incumbents in the Valley that are looking for new technologies or new companies to partner with, or to establish business relationships with, or to acquire, we’re dealing with that entire ecosystem.
On preconceptions about Michigan:
For my money, there’s no better individual or engineer than a Michigander. I think we have fantastic people in this state. But there are fantastic people around our whole country. The largest misconception you hear is that in Michigan you don’t have the understanding of technology, and in Michigan they’ll offer that in California you don’t have the understanding of manufacturing. I think, from a very general perspective, you have to understand that we each have our own attributes.
On how mobility is defined:
The way we define mobility at Fontinalis is the movement of goods, people, and the provisioning of services across air, land, and sea. We invest in technologies or companies that are impacting road, rail, bike, air as well as autonomous air, land, and sea — and also those empowering technologies — cybersecurity, AI, holistic robotics, and big-data analytics. We’re looking at this in a very broad way, and it’s important that we do that because there’s so much opportunity in mobility holistically.
On the importance of social interactions in business:
I live and work in downtown Detroit, and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be in the business I’m in. Sometimes I talk to my friends and they’re like, “Wait, what are you talking about? Why wouldn’t you want to be somewhere else? Silicon Valley, Stuttgart, Tokyo, New York?” The reason I want to be here is because Detroit is the largest transportation technology cluster in the world. The companies here built that cluster, and they provide the assets through which the world moves.