Funny how things happen. In 1991, Marc Weiser put on a pair of track shoes, a simple action that started a series of events leading, in a roundabout way, to his position as managing director of a venture capital firm in 2013.
Weiser (BSE AS ’95, MBA ’00) added some detail. “I earned a spot on the 1991 U-M track team as a walk-on. In my junior year during finals – it was 1993 – while the team wasn’t supposed to be practicing, a bunch of us were playing basketball for exercise. Someone undercut me. I tore an ACL and that ended my track career. I had two surgeries to repair it. That was a hard phase. Different people were helping me out. One of them introduced me to four guys from California. I graduated in ’95 and went out there.”
Thanks to those California contacts, he rode an early Internet wave in Silicon Valley, first at MessageMedia, where he pioneered some original methods for e-commerce transactions, and then as co-founder of another e-commerce company, QuantumShift, in 1997. A year later he came back to Ann Arbor.
“I always wanted to come back,” he said. “My family was here. I wanted to get my MBA at Michigan. But most of all, I came back for Mary.”
She would become his wife and a partner in a number of philanthropic ventures dear to both of them.
While he studied for his MBA, he joined Ann Arbor-based Arbor Partners. Two years later, he co-founded Waypoint Ventures L.L.C., which eventually changed its name to RPM Ventures, a seed and early-stage venture firm. There he sits today… from track shoes to recognized entrepreneurial whiz.
In addition to his entrepreneurial experience in the tech industry, Weiser is an investor in and advisor to a number of highly successful non-tech companies, including restaurants, real estate and small retail businesses, all of which put him on the Crain’s Detroit Business 2006 list of “40 Under 40.”
With Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate dean for entrepreneurial programs and a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, Weiser sketched out what would become the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE). They secured funding, launched the Center and began teaching students how to create businesses, from concept to company. Today, Weiser is an active CFE board member and an adjunct professor in the Center’s Affiliates Program.
“Some students found out that I not only teach for free but contribute to the Center. They jokingly question my business savvy, telling me that I earn a negative salary.”
For his efforts in setting up the CFE and TechArb (an Ann Arbor incubator/accelerator for student-led businesses), helping establish the Master’s in Entrepreneurship (a joint program between the College of Engineering and Ross School of Business) and supporting the College in numerous selfless ways, Weiser received Michigan Engineering’s 2012 Distinguished Service Award His dedication to the College has deep roots. Before he set foot on campus during his search for a college to attend, he had already been doing research in physics in high school. Research wasn’t usually part of the undergrad experience, but he learned that he’d be allowed to get into research immediately.
“That sealed the deal,” he said. “I came to Michigan Engineering and got into some cutting-edge work. I was passionate about research – and I still miss it – but even then I had the head of a venture capitalist. It worked out perfectly. I still love research and, as a venture capitalist who deals mostly with tech startups, I get to rub elbows with researchers every day.”
Weiser demoed a lot of his research, primarily for other undergrads. But the demo that came to mind first was more fun than forward-thinking. “I showed them a glowing pickle… really.” He drew a pickle (sort of) and tapped it for emphasis. “When you run a current through a pickle it glows. Try it, you’ll see. But don’t touch it – it would probably be the last pickle you ever see.” Among his other fond memories was tailgating outside the Big House. He liked it then; he likes it now. “I used to fly back from California and tailgate before games. It’s great fun.”
Now his enjoyment comes primarily from spending time with his family, tinkering with new technology and building a new house – a smart house, he pointed out (“I’m into environmental issues”). He puts in a lot of time with efforts outside of the business arena. Most notably, he and Mary led the creation of the U-M Food Allergy Center, which conducts research to find a cure for food allergies, many of them life-threatening.
“There’s a quote I love, from Fielding Yost. Part of it says, ‘The Spirit of Michigan is based upon a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways.’ Well, I’m a Michigan man. That loyalty is part of me. It’s important to give back – to the school, to anyone in need. You’ll get a great return. I know I do.”