Victor Gutwein was in middle school when he launched his first startup in his hometown in northwestern Indiana. “I wanted to be able to earn money,” he says, “so I decided to put bubblegum machines all over town.” Gutwein says it taught him a lot about running a business—everything from generating more sales to managing his inventory. He even had a successful exit strategy: selling the business to his little brother when his family moved to West Lafayette.
By 2016, the recent graduate of the University of Chicago was making headlines as “the youngest head of a venture capital firm in town” after raising $10 million for his company M25 Group. This was on top of the $1 million he had raised the year before to test his idea that investors can mitigate their risk by putting smaller amounts of money into a larger pool of companies. It’s a strategy that the 25-year-old Gutwein admits is a “very different model than the vast majority of venture capital firms out there.” But his success in backing 21 different startups convinced investors that he was onto something big.
Over the next three years, Gutwein and his team plan to invest $100,000 in 60 to 80 startups throughout the Midwest. (They have already closed on 14 of those deals.) Along the way they have caught the attention of more established firms that see the member of Chicago’s WeWork Kinzie as an important partner. “We’re always so warmly welcomed, because people realize there’s such a lack of seed investors in the Midwest,” says Gutwein. “The former Rust Belt is coming back, and we see a lot of opportunities here.”