Mark Kvamme Tests Himself Again With a New Venture Capital Fund and a Car Racing Team
The Drive Capital co-founder and former head of JobsOhio embraces his own fear as he continues to invest in the Buckeye State and builds up MDK Motorsports.
Mark Kvamme likes a good scare. “I’m a big believer fear is something we’re missing in today’s world,” says the successful venture capitalist and former president of JobsOhio.
Kvamme competed in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance sports car race at the end of January, hurtling around the Florida track in a Porsche 911 at 200 miles an hour. He’s also bungee jumped and raced dirt bikes and off-road trucks.
“Look at this,” Kvamme says, as he clicks a photo on his laptop during a January interview. An X-ray of his face pops up, showing how it’s held together by metal clips. On a motorcycle jump in 2011, he hit his head on the crossbar, causing the facial injuries and knocking him unconscious. “I think it’s important to scare yourself, but not kill yourself, financially and physically,” says Kvamme, who turned 62 in February. “I learned early on, whenever I scared myself, it was a real rush.”
Calculated financial and physical risk is the thread that runs through Kvamme’s life. As a California kid, he skied, climbed cliffs and raced motorcycles. As a California adult, he founded and sold a tech company, helped start and eventually sold (for many millions) the CKS Group, an advertising firm. Kvamme then joined Sequoia Capital, one of the largest venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, the nation’s VC epicenter. Putting millions into a fledgling company “is scary as hell, and I fail 50 to 60 percent of the time,” Kvamme says. These financial crashes hurt but are easier on the body than the time he crashed during an off-road truck race in 2014 and flipped over multiple times.
Kvamme came to Columbus in 2011 as a favor to his friend, then-Gov. John Kasich, to launch and lead JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development agency. He intended to stay a year but found Ohio a good a place to explore his fear factor. Kvamme left JobsOhio and with Chris Olsen launched Drive Capital, a venture capital firm, in 2012. Drive has raised $2.2 billion and invested in Midwest-based startups, including Root Insurance, Duolingo, Olive and Civis Analytics.
Recently, Kvamme decided to ease off the gas pedal at Drive and is now partner emeritus. However, he intends to continue to invest in the state through a new vehicle, the O.H.I.O. Fund. Because he is raising capital for the fund, Kvamme is legally prohibited from discussing his plans. The incorporation paperwork states the fund will look for “environmentally focused and/or social-impact-focused investments.”
Based on the name, it’s apparent where Kvamme will invest. “For the next 20 years, I see growth in Ohio like never before,” he says. He cites several factors for this expansion, including the state’s central location, access to water and manufacturing infrastructure.
Social impact also gets Kvamme’s blood flowing. He helped found Color Coded Labs, which is dedicated to teaching tech and coding skills to people of color. “More diverse companies are better and more profitable,” he says.
In 2014, Kvamme decided to try car racing. “It was a new way to test myself in a very direct and important way,” he says. “How do you take yourself to the limit without going over the limit?”
There’s a thing in racing called “arrive and drive.” It’s common and involves writing a check to get a seat in a fast race car. Kvamme paid $75,000 to join a Muehlner Motorsports team. During a qualifying race for the 24 Hours of Daytona in 2014, the first time Kvamme ever drove a souped-up Porsche 911 on a track, “I spun out in the corner on my third lap and wound up in the infield,” he says. “I didn’t hit anything, and the fun part was, by the end of the race, I wasn’t the slowest guy on our team. That’s how I got the bug.”
Kvamme has ridden in every 24 Hours of Daytona since. (His four-person team finished 34th overall in the Jan. 28–29 race and sixth in its class, GTD Pro.) He also has competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and has driven on tracks all over the United States and beyond, winning several races. He was the 2022 Am Class champion in the Porsche Carrera Cup North America.
To add another challenge to his long list, Kvamme formed MDK Motorsports two years ago with his wife, Megan, a former investment banker, who serves as CEO. They bought the former headquarters of Meyer Shank Racing in Etna Township in Licking County. Meyer Shank built a new facility nearby. “I’ve raced everything for every kind of team, and I thought there was a better way to do it,” Kvamme says of the decision to start MDK (his initials). Now others will pay him to “arrive and drive” one of the team’s seven Porsche 911s. Each one costs $300,000.
The MDK investment is “double-digit millions,” and the financial goal is a little different than Kvamme’s VC deals. “This is a passion project, and the goal is to break even,” he says.
Kvamme had an epiphany last year when the cockpit of the private airplane he was aboard caught fire. (It eventually landed safely.) “I actually did my goodbye video,” he says. “And, as I thought about it, I thought I’ve had a pretty good run, and that’s a pretty good feeling. … The last thing I want is to be 80 and say, ‘I wish I’d done this and done that.’”
This story is from the March 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.