Venture Capital 2.0
Domino's secret? As much as anything else, being skeptical about accessing the traditional forms of capital that have fueled much of what does not work in the declining digital age.
"Kent Displays is not backed by your traditional VC," Domino explained. He said that while his company has landed government contracts and grants and sells into retail stores such as Brookstone, essentially Kent grew from the imagination of one man: Bill Manning.
Manning is not Peyton's or Eli's uncle. Rather, he -- along with financier Bill Napier -- founded Manning & Napier (MN - Get Report), an investment advisory firm the company says manages $44.3 billion as of Q3 2012.
But Shannon Lappin, who fields my sort of journalistic questions at the firm, said Kent Displays "isn't an investment held specifically by Manning & Napier Advisors." In other words, traditional capital takes no credit for creating Kent.Rather, the screen maker spun out of Manning's pure passion for interactive LCD displays. "Which is what you need," Domino said. When I pressed Domino for what investors can learn from Kent when considering the next Kent like opportunity in domestic-made high technology, he was clear: The normal venture-backed, bank-backed, fund-backed approach to tech will probably not be the big winning bet. "Sure, it took time to get the right parts to work with our system," he said, and local resources such as the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State University helped. But again Domino is clear: The secret to Kent Displays was Bill Manning's choice to create Kent Displays. "He just handed us the money and said, 'Go do this,'" Domino said. "And he stuck with us ... He decided that this technology should be brought to the world. And it was." "It was not easy. But now that the parts are there, we are growing," he said. Domino can't see a reason why this model can't work in any other industry. And friends, neither can I.