Mr. Wonderful Sees Big Things in North Dakota
A Look at Kevin O’Leary’s Wonder Fund North Dakota
Kevin O’Leary, one of America’s most well-known businessmen, is looking to make a big-time impact in North Dakota through Wonder Fund North Dakota, a North Dakota Development Fund direct investment program that will use federal funds allocated through a State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) grant.
Why did O’Leary choose ND and why did ND choose O’Leary?
The man known as Mr. Wonderful maintains he wouldn’t have taken the opportunity if he didn’t see a chance to succeed.
“My first connection with North Dakota came almost 10 years ago with my investment in PRx Performance, which has been one of the most successful deals in Shark Tank history,” O’Leary said. “That really opened me up to the possibilities of what we can do in Fargo, Bismarck, and everywhere else in North Dakota. It’s really about policy. I would never do a fund like this in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, or California. Those states are uninvestable and I wouldn’t take the risk of trying to attract other capital to places that are uninvestable. I’m not having a hard time bringing capital in with me into North Dakota. Who deserves the credit for that? That’s Governor Burgum, the senators, and the people themselves who are voting for policy that’s very pro-business—that’s the bottom line. I couldn’t do this if I couldn’t attract more capital. North Dakota is very competitive, particularly now when you could headquarter in North Dakota and hire people from all over the world. Because of the pandemic, we have all of this technology where 30-40% of our staff doesn’t work in the office anymore. This is a golden period for North Dakota, it really is. It’s going to come out swinging as a competitive state. It’s no longer just Texas or Florida anymore.”
If it sounds like O’Leary is excited about what our state has to offer, it’s because he is. And he’s not just pumping our tires, he’s also letting the whole world know—something North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Josh Teigen sees as an added benefit of choosing O’Leary.
“One of the biggest reasons we chose the application of the O’Leary Ventures is because we believe the biggest need in the state is early-stage capital,” Teigen said. “Kevin has a ton of experience underwriting early-stage venture risk. Most venture companies, especially in our area, like to do later-stage deals where the risk profile is reduced. One of the intangible benefits of working with O’Leary, that we didn’t really realize that we were getting when we went down this path, is that there’s a news clip just about every other day where Kevin O’Leary is on a national news outlet talking about how business friendly North Dakota is. In my mind, that’s worth a lot more than an asset management fee. I believe, in North Dakota, we’re not very good at telling our story. We’re almost humble to a fault. And so to have someone from the outside that can look at us and say, ‘there’s world-class talent, world-class companies, and therefore a need for world-class capital allocation in a state like North Dakota,’ there’s tremendous value to that.”
“I am traveling the world talking to people about North Dakota— there’s plenty of capital that needs to be put to work on a long-term basis that knows nothing about the policy of North Dakota,” O’Leary said. “My job is to be an ambassador of that policy and I do it willfully because the policy is stable, the government is supportive of businesses, and taxes are competitive. Those are the things you want if you are putting money to work for 7 to 11 years.”