Following TMone exit, Anthony Marlowe gets behind Iowa startups
If you think Anthony Marlowe's name looks familiar, you're probably right.
Over the last decade, there have been countless stories about Marlowe's business-process outsourcing company TMone, which was acquired by Jacksonville, Fla.-based Enhanced Recovery Company earlier this year.
He's been named one of Inc.'s "25 Youngest CEOs from the Inc. 5,000 list" and he just became the co-owner of a NASCAR team.
But now the 34-year-old entrepreneur is bringing his success full circle to help founders close to home who may just be getting started.
"It literally is my way of giving back to the community," he told Silicon Prairie News. "Being an entrepreneur over the last decade, it's unbelievable how many people tell you 'no' or that you don't fit inside their box or meet their criteria.
"Iowa City Capital Partners is my way of giving back to the community because there's a lot of talented people out there who deserve to be told 'yes.'"
The fund, which Marlowe says was enabled by TMone's exit, led Iowa City-based clusterFlunk's $100,000 seed round in July. While Marlowe has made a number of investments in companies from across the country—including Facebook's pre-IPO funding in 2012—he plans to continue angel investing in startups and local entrepreneurs, many of which are tied to the University of Iowa.
"Iowa City Capital Partners is kind of my side project, my solo gig. People have successful bands and then you see a band member have a solo project; that's what Iowa City Capital Partners is for me. I'm interested in helping startups and entrepreneurs prosper in the Silicon Prairie, particularly in the Iowa City area."
Marlowe still serves as the president of TMone, which provides customer care services like sales leads and online chats and call answering for businesses.
An "adopted Iowan"
Originally from La Grange, Ill., Marlowe moved to Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa and became what he refers to as an "adopted Iowan." However, it wasn't long before his freshman year job at a Fortune 500 company turned into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"And that's all she wrote," he said. "I put school on hold as a result of being offered a promotion and moved to Washington, D.C. I thought, 'I can always go to school, but it's not often that at 19 you get to be a manager inside a Fortune 500 company.'"
Marlowe later moved back to Iowa City to work for MCI, but not long after he says the "reality of corporate America happened" and the telecommunications company—now a subsidiary of Verizon—closed.
It was 2003. Marlowe was 23 years old. So he started a company with fellow MCI employee John Burchert, and decide to stay in Iowa City.
"We said, 'Screw it, let's take a chance,'" Marlowe said. "Those first sets of personal financial statements when we were looking for bank loans were hard. We were literally listing baseball card collections as assets.
"Most commercial bankers understand real estate transactions and asset-based lending. A startup—let alone a pre-revenue startup—is not something every bank could wrap its heads around."
With the sale of TMone and more than 10 years of experience under his belt, Marlowe decided he would help early-stage entrepreneurs, particularly those in the Iowa City area, looking for funding in a way that he would have appreciated when TMone was just getting started.
And he's inspired by the momentum and energy he's seen from the area's startups—particularly its students—in the last few years.
"I'm very happy to hear that the area is embracing startups and entrepreneurs," Marlowe said. "I'm really sick of hearing about—no offense to them—another startup from Stanford making $1 million or $1 billion. There are plenty of capable brains coming from the University of Iowa that could do the same thing.
"The direction the Silicon Prairie is going is the correct one and I think we’re going to see more and more of it."
The era of champions
Before there was Iowa City Capital Partners or TMone, Marlowe was a NASCAR fan.
"It was an era of champions," Marlowe said of his early interest in NASCAR. "For a young guy who could go out there and perform exceptionally, it was hard not to be a fan."
As part of his work with TMone, Marlowe was able to channel his interest in NASCAR into a business partnership. "I knew when I first became a NASCAR fan that I wanted to get behind the scenes, but I didn't know to what extent," he said.
In reality, the extent of his involvement in NASCAR has become greater than Marlowe ever initially thought. Recently he became of a co-owner of Swan Racing, a Statesville, N.C.-based stock-car team that competes full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
Through Iowa City Capital Partners, Marlowe's investments have been able to reflect personal interests and passions. While NASCAR is among Marlowe's long-time interests, his commitment to help entrepreneurs in the Iowa town that he's made home is equally prevalent.
As many ClusterFlunks as we can get
"I think the community needs more angel and seed investors," Marlowe said of eastern Iowa. "I don't care to do every deal out there. I don't want to, it's not prudent and frankly, I don't like every deal.
"But the more and more risk capital that we can inject into the Iowa City and University of Iowa braintrust for kids to take the chance of living their dreams, the better off we’re going to be. Not everyone is going to succeed, but there are a bunch worth the valiant effort, and enabling that effort to be attempted is what will help us grow."
While Marlowe notes that all of Iowa City Capital Partners' investments involve an equity position, he says that the fund's "sweet spot" is early-stage companies that need an initial level of investment to start building their business—the first of which was Iowa City, Iowa startup ClusterFlunk.
The startup—which launched in Jan. 2013 at the University of Iowa—serves as an online study hall for college students. Co-founders AJ Nelson and Joe Dallago now work on ClusterFlunk full-time and just more than a year after its launch, ClusterFlunk scaled its platform to more than 50 universities across the country.
"We need as many ClusterFlunks as we can get," Marlowe said.
Credits: Anthony Marlowe photo courtesy of Marlowe.