Home People Dynamo Weston Wamp Energizes Transportation Tech

Dynamo Weston Wamp Energizes Transportation Tech

by Muriel Vega

Lamp Post Group principal Weston Wamp understands the fundraising struggles that startups go through after experiencing the same obstacles when he was running for the U.S. Congress. His empathy makes him a unique kind of investor. “I’m attracted to the tech entrepreneur who believes his or her company’s ultimate success is inevitable but isn’t afraid of the day-to-day ups and downs that will get them there,” says Wamp.

The transportation industry is booming (spending totaled $1.45 trillion in 2014) and his Chattanooga-based venture incubator Lamp Post Group is taking note. They found the perfect marriage between finding innovation and nurturing it. The venture fund recently opened its first transportation-focused accelerator, Dynamo, which had its demo day earlier this month. The fund will invest about half of its capital into logistics-related companies.

Here, Wamp talks about how technology is affecting the transportation industry, Dynamo’s incredible demo day, and how he defines startup success.

How did you end up in the transportation industry? 

My senior partners started and bootstrapped a company called Access America Transport in 2002. It grew to $500 million in sales and was one of the largest freight brokerages in the U.S. before merging with Coyote Logistics in 2014 and subsequently selling to UPS for $1.8 billion in 2015. Over the last several years they started several more transportation-related ventures including AAT Carriers, Reliance Partners, and Steam Logistics. Lamp Post Group later became the first investor in Bellhops, now the largest player in the on-demand moving space. The reason we launched Dynamo was to leverage our own background in the logistics arena as investors. It helps that Chattanooga has a legacy in the transportation/logistics industry and we believe it can become the best place to start a logistics tech company if it isn’t already.weston-wamp-headshotDid your political fundraising experience help you navigate the world of startup funding? 

Along the journey, I almost got elected to the U.S. Congress at age 27 in 2014 — I got 49.2 percent of the vote in a hard-fought race against the incumbent. I was involved with Lamp Post before, during and after running for office, but there’s no question that when you’ve raised money from individuals in a competitive federal election it gives you empathy for the fundraising grind that many startup companies go through.

At a very fundamental level, it is a privilege to be involved in early stage venture capital because you are working with some of the most ambitious people on the planet allowing them to pursue ideas and passions that usually can’t be financed through traditional means.

What kind of companies do you seek out as an investor? 

Lamp Post Group has focused most of our resources on Dynamo’s success — both the fund and the accelerator. Several large investments in Steam Logistics, Reliance Partners, and Torch have kept the incubator side of our operation occupied. Torch is one of Lamp Post’s most interesting stories because it’s consumer hardware, a wi-fi router for parents, which is totally out of our realm of expertise but we believed in the founding team. It’s been a wild ride from successful Kickstarter several months ago to routers shipping this week.

Tell me about how the Dynamo accelerator works into Lamp Post Group? How do they work together? 

We admit this part gets confusing. The accelerator and our fund are autonomous. Dynamo Accelerator has partnerships with GE, Ryder, and Kenco, and operates much like other accelerators. Lamp Post Ventures is simply the management entity of our debut fund. Since we are born out of Lamp Post Group, the venture incubator that paved the way for Dynamo, we named it similarly. Our fund has LPs from across the South, many of whom operate companies in the logistics sector. The fund will invest about half of its capital into logistics-related companies coming out of the accelerator as well as opportunistically across the U.S. and abroad. 

westonwamp2Dynamo just had its first demo day. How did it go and what companies shined during the day? Any future plans for the accelerator?

We believe that aligning a sector-focused venture fund with a sector-focused fund is a perfect marriage. First of all, we get to spend 90 days through an intense accelerator with some of our potential investments. We get to see them in sales meetings, in disagreements with their co-founders, and maybe most importantly, see them out of the office. Since we bring industry contacts and knowledge to the process, we think we can de-risk investments even at this early stage by getting very familiar with their companies and the markets they are targeting during the 90-day accelerator.

Our first Demo Day was an incredible success. Investors from across the U.S. descended on Chattanooga to check out our inaugural cohort of companies which represented four countries, and every region of the U.S. Candidly, some of the earliest-stage companies in this group received the most rave reviews so it made it difficult to say which shined. Unlike many accelerators, almost all Dynamo companies will be post-revenue and some in the first cohort had annual revenues in the $1M range. Dynamo accelerator will run in 9-month intervals with applications for next year’s program opening in January. 

copy-of-dynamodemo16-69How does success look to you in the startup world?

Frequently, I see valuations that simply aren’t congruent with traction or market opportunity. That will result in more time wasted trying to raise money, and subsequently less time available to build your product and sell it. When raising initial capital, show humility and align yourself with investors who can help you in your mission. Success to me in the startup world normally looks like founders building a company with the same confidence that entrepreneurs start companies in other segments of the economy. In the high-growth tech sector, the macro numbers say that most startups fail, but I believe that most of the excellent, hell-bent founders succeed. I’m attracted to the tech entrepreneur who believes his or her company’s ultimate success is inevitable but isn’t afraid of the day-to-day ups and downs that will get them there. Founders should keep in mind that venture capital is just a means to an end, like a bank loan for a construction company, and if there’s a path to make your company profitable you may want to take it and the security that comes with profitability while you reevaluate your long-term options.

Founders should keep in mind that venture capital is just a means to an end, like a bank loan for a construction company, and if there’s a path to make your company profitable you may want to take it and the security that comes with profitability while you reevaluate your long-term options.

What are your thoughts on how technology is affecting the transportation industry?

Technology is affecting the supply chain top-to-bottom — the freight segment has traditionally been a laggard in adopting new technology, but it’s on the horizon. That’s why Silicon Valley investors have begun to pour money into logistics startups like never before. But we believe the solutions for this industry are just as likely, if not more likely, to come from parts of the country where people have a deep understanding of how technology can solve problems in transportation as Silicon Valley.

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