Early in 2023, John Glushik took the helm from Kip Frey as Executive Vice President of New Ventures and Managing Director for HG Ventures. The multi-faceted role puts John front-and-center of the ventures arm of The Heritage Group, where he directs the vetting, investment, incubation and growth of companies building innovative technologies and services related to THG’s industries. He also oversees the New Ventures internal incubation activities and the THG Accelerator, which brings a cohort of upstart hardtech company founders to Indianapolis for a three-month intensive program each year. Accelerator founders pilot their products, receive guidance from a network of mentors and prepare for successful launches into their industries. In a recent interview, John discusses his path to New Ventures and how he plans to leverage the entrepreneurial spirit of THG’s family of operating companies to best position us for institutional success.
Let’s discuss your journey to arriving here at The Heritage Group. You have a diverse educational background, studying mechanical engineering at Duke, achieving a master’s in aeronautics and astronautics from MIT and earning an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. What drove your educational pursuits and how have they played into your role today?
Early in my education, there was a lot of trying to find where I wanted to be longer term. I got into technology because I was just fascinated about how it could change the world. By the way, my major was the same as Fred Fehsenfeld Jr’s. We both went through the mechanical engineering and materials science curriculum at Duke University. Following undergrad, I went to work for General Electric (GE), where I completed a technology leadership program that allowed me to move around and become involved in different types of engineering. That exposure sparked my interest in mechanical engineering, first through aerospace, because I was excited about all the new technologies coming out of that industry.
I started research at GE that got me connected to the Draper lab at MIT, which meant being at the forefront of studying modern technologies, including GPS navigation. Now, GPS is part of our everyday lives, but in those days it was very early in its development. As intrigued as I was by research, I realized I didn’t want to be focused on a single technology, and I decided to attend business school. Through my time at Kellogg, I developed some basic skills in business and finance, but more importantly, I started building a network of relationships in the business world and specifically in the venture capital sector. All of this led me to consulting and portfolio work in areas of new technologies, which then led me to the venture industry.
When did you first cross paths with Kip Frey?
I first met Kip through my work with Intersouth Partners, a venture firm in Durham, North Carolina that invests in early-stage life science and technology companies. Kip was a rockstar entrepreneur, and our professional relationship began through Intersouth’s investments with his companies. We also had a chance to work together as partners at Intersouth for a few years. After leaving Intersouth, I reported to Kip when he hired me to help create the Duke Angel Network. Slowly throughout the years, our dynamic developed into a personal friendship. In collaborating with one another for so many years, our styles and roles are very complementary of one another. He’s been a fantastic mentor and our dynamic is built on a deep sense of trust and respect that you can only find when working with someone for years upon years. Kip is how I first learned of Fred Fehsenfeld, Jr. and what he and Amy were starting to develop with The Heritage Group with Kip’s help.
What was Kip’s pitch to you to uproot your family and move to Indianapolis to work with Ventures?
Kip indicated that Fred and Amy Schumacher were interested in building a new model of corporate venture investing that capitalized on the capabilities of The Heritage Group. He said, “Just come to Indianapolis and meet with the folks at The Center. Meet with Fred and Amy, see the vision that they’re building around their corporate venture practice.” And because it’s Kip, I could only say, “Yes, I trust you.” So I got on a plane and met with the three of them in early2018. My visit to the Center and my discussion with Fred and Amy validated everything that Kip had told me. There was a special opportunity to build something unique with great people. It also helped that my wife, Robyn, knew Kip and trusted him. We made the decision to start the process of leaving North Carolina. I commuted for a year, and eventually moved my family to Indianapolis in the summer of 2019.
Since arriving, what’s been the most surprising thing to you about The Heritage Group?
There’s an unprecedented level of partnership, collaboration and understanding that The Heritage Group has with its customers and business partners – it’s been built over decades. This isn’t your typical customer relationship, and it cuts across all our businesses as part of the culture at The Heritage Group. This was important to me because of some issues I have seen with other venture investing groups. They often interact with entrepreneurs in a strictly transactional way. Not here. It speaks to the stability and unparalleled understanding of our businesses and their partnerships with clients.
From a Ventures perspective, what’s it like collaborating across industry partnerships and the network of experts we employ at The Heritage Group?
When we started the group, we made it our mission to not simply be an investor, but to invest in areas where we can add value. I think that’s how we distinguish ourselves from a pure venture company. Of course, we perform deep diligence on all our investments and we structure deals with a focus on being good stewards of THG capital. However, what we do is very different, because it’s not strictly transactional. We will do everything we can to make companies a success by utilizing our connections and our Heritage network. Entrepreneurs are blown away by the level of feedback they receive across our companies. What The Heritage Group can do in terms of business relationships is something no other company can do in our industries.
What’s something you wish our employees and companies better understood about HG Ventures?
I want to make sure our employees know that we want to collaborate. If there’s a challenge they’re trying to overcome, we want to know about it, because we might be able to help. We can provide a window into the entrepreneurial ecosystem, which includes an awareness of early-stage companies that are creating innovative solutions for our industries. We want to create an open door for communication.
You’ve inherited this position with Ventures from Kip. Where do you plan to take it?
First, I think it’s important to note that while, yes, I’ve inherited this from Kip, I’ve always been aligned with his and Amy’s vision of Ventures. I want to lead Ventures in what I would call a deeper integration into our industries. Given what we’ve been able to build and develop in terms of a nice track record of success, I want to weave Ventures into the fabric of The Heritage Group. We can deepen our integration and leverage each other’s expertise so that we add value across our businesses.
If anyone within our operating units has any big ideas, anything they think can be the basis for a new business, we want to help. That’s where we see great potential to create game changing businesses. When I look at the next five years, that’s where I think we can make the biggest impact with our venture work. Internal incubation is where we’re truly harnessing the power of the innovative people that we have here.
What are some ideas emerging on the horizon that you’re particularly excited about?
Well, it certainly varies from quarter to quarter, depending on our market intelligence. Right now, I’m excited about a wide range of innovation trends including the future of roads, circular economy/recycling technologies and sustainable approaches to chemical manufacturing.
We’re good at finding entrepreneurs and companies that are creating things to address specific business and technology challenges. Effective communication across THG is really important so that we can leverage the power of people in our businesses who understand those challenges.