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Rich Langdale: entrepreneur, venture capitalist, mentor

Rich Langdale of NCT Ventures. Photos Ben French
Rich Langdale of NCT Ventures. Photos Ben French
The story of Columbus-based NCT Ventures capital investment firm is the stuff of which Fortune 500 myths are made. In 1986, an Ohio State University student named Rich Langdale sold his car for $5,000. He used that money to fund his first business, Digital Storage, a wholesale computer supply company.

The company grew and diversified into international markets through a series of partnerships, joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries. Langdale and his partners formed NCT Ventures in the mid-'90s as a way to re-invest the profits from those companies.

Today, the businessman who founded a total of eight companies and was a four-time finalist for Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year continues to keep a hand in many of the companies formed under the NCT umbrella.

But he's not only putting his money where his passions lie, he's putting his talents there too.

Langdale helped develop the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, and helped develop the entrepreneurship curriculum -- in addition to teaching undergraduate, MBA and executive MBA courses on entrepreneurship. 

Why? His reasons may be explained by the factors he attributes to his initial successes as a businessman.

"I was totally ignorant as to what it would take to be successful and I had no money. Those were my two most valuable attributes. We call it 'dumb and no money' around here," Langdale explains. "'Dumb' requires that you ask, 'What does this market need that it doesn't have?' 'No money' means getting your funding by the best means available."

While selling your car is still an option, NCT Ventures is providing other alternatives. The firm puts seed money into Ohio start-ups struggling with the dumb-and-no-money affliction. NCT focuses on marketing, logistics and what the company terms "disruptive business models (companies using technology to make a marketplace more efficient)."

NCT's portfolio is edgy and diverse. Investments include roll:, a popular bicycle boutique with three upscale locations in cycle-friendly Columbus; Vertebration, developer of a minimally invasive lumbar surgical device; Q-Start Labs, a software development firm; Embrace Pet Insurance, a Cleveland-based online agency growing the companion-animal medical insurance market; the Phoenix Bat Company, a Plain City manufacturer of high-quality wooden baseball bats used by pros like the Tigers' Miguel Cabrerra and Magglio Ordonez; as well as various other Ohio-based start-ups that range from media to energy companies and digital platform developers.

Each of these variant companies possesses the qualities that comprise the "Ideas to Business" model perfected and taught by Langdale and his partners at NCT.

The key to a successful start-up is "probably one of the hardest things to explain, because if it's done right it hasn't been done before," says Langdale. "We invest in companies that look at marketing and logistics -- selling your product and doing things as efficiently as possible on the back end. That 'disruptive business model' usually falls in the logistics end. It's done with technology, eliminating redundancies and costs."

Plainly put, a successful start-up will begin with passion and personal interest. As the NCT "Ideas to Business" model taught at OSU's Center for Entrepreneurship illustrates, that passion must ten lead to innovation, viability, and finally operation and execution. For forward-thinking Ohio businesses with the potential for success along this path, NCT fosters an environment where mistakes -- and learning -- can take place in the start-up process. In such an experimental business environment, Langdale sees "the ability to make an empowered culture."
NCT Ventures is itself the recipient of investment by the Ohio Capital Fund (TOCF). Established by the Ohio General Assembly, TOCF is the state's "fund of funds," investing up to $125 million in funds borrowed from private investors in Ohio-based businesses in early development.

"We decided to invest in NCT because the team brings a wealth of entrepreneurial experience to their venture capital investing," says Paul Cohn, managing director of Fort Washington Investment Advisers. Fort Washington and its subsidiary equity firm comprise Buckeye Limited Ventures, LLC, which administers TOCF. The fact that companies seeded by Langdale and partners are succeeding in Ohio's start-up market reflects well on the state's own investment in firms like NCT Ventures.

Among the portfolio of investment firms TOCF supports, NCT Ventures stands out, Cohn says, thanks in large part to the same spirit that drove Langdale to hock his car and start a computer business in '86. 

"Rich is a guy who will run through walls to make an investment work," says Cohn. "He doesn't know the word 'fail.'"

There's little room for a "fail" on NCT's Venture Highway. Available for free in abridged form on the firm's website (NCTventures.com), the Venture Highway Model is an expanded, interactive version of NCT's original Ideas to Business model.

The Venture Highway has been standardized in Ohio State's entrepreneurship textbooks and is available for purchase for businesses. Its diagrams and worksheets are designed to provide entrepreneurs with an "infrastructure for bringing an idea to market effectively through a series of well defined development phases."

On the Venture Highway, there is no failure, only progression to what Langdale calls the "next level" of business.

"Taking a business from start-up to viable company means understanding the cost of your product and customer acquisition. The area where we can see the greatest chance of success or failure is that business model."

As for Central Ohio's own venture highway, Langdale predicts an invigorating ride ahead.

"There's so much innovation in Columbus. We have research at OSU, Batelle, Nationwide Children's Hospital, OhioHealth and more. That much money going into innovation creates lots of opportunity. With ideas and people, the last thing you have to do is add money….I think the future is extremely bright. "
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