Entrepreneur Profile: Paul Anthony
Growing up in South Bend
“I thought South Bend was a wonderful place to grow up,” said Paul Anthony, founder of OpStart.
Paul went to St. Joseph Grade School, St. Joseph High School and attended the University of Notre Dame, where he studied finance. Paul grew up in a family of entrepreneurs: his parents founded Anthony Travel over 30 years ago, a business that manages travel for many university athletic departments including Notre Dame.
“I idolized the fact that my parents were entrepreneurs growing up,” he said. “They were my inspiration to take an entrepreneurial path.”
That being said, Paul didn’t immediately turn to entrepreneurship after completing his studies at Notre Dame.
Venture Capitalist to Entrepreneur
After college, Paul decided to go into investment banking. He worked for William Blair in Chicago, where he was part of the technology group. There he learned about tech as an industry. After two years at that organization, Paul took a job with Adams Street Partners, a Chicago Venture Capital firm. He participated in investments into tech companies. While he enjoyed the triumphant moments with founders when celebrating their new investments, the moments where funding was denied were difficult.
“I hated when we had to say no to businesses that I liked and founders that I respected,” Paul said. “As a venture capitalist, I felt completely underqualified to say no to these founders and kind of had some imposter syndrome set in.”
Paul eventually left Adams Street Partners and went to the Dominican Republic to reconnect with his old college roommate and fellow South Bend native, Scott Coppa. Scott had an idea on how to use technology to initiate data driven community development and had already recruited a technical cofounder, Hope Tambala, and country director, Crismary Gutierrez, to bring the idea to life. Paul felt as though the team that was forming could use someone with business and fundraising experience, so he joined as co-founder and CFO of the newly formed Puente Desarrollo Internacional in 2018. Puente is a data network that allows local residents to collect geo-tagged survey data assessing living conditions in their home communities. The data is then fed to NGOs who can fund projects that are backed by hard data and desired by community residents. Today, Puente’s technology is used in nine countries, and their team has directly improved health and sanitation conditions for tens of thousands of people in the Dominican Republic. In the early days, however, things were quite messy – in no small part due to Paul’s inexperience as a CFO.
“I made so many mistakes in that role,” he said, laughing.
In that role, he learned on the job what they had to do for taxes, paid his contractors via PayPal for the first year, and kept the company’s books on a spreadsheet. His experience – and struggle – with the back-office financials, combined with his desire to help other founders after having to judge them as a venture capitalist, sparked another idea. Eventually, Paul decided to move back to the United States, but he still serves as the Board President of Puente.
Landing in South Bend
After returning to the U.S., Paul was approached a family friend, Scott Jessup, about an idea he had to help tech startups hire back-office teams based in South Bend. Scott was working with fellow Notre Dame graduate Tim Connors, who has decades of venture capital experience and is regularly featured on Forbes’ Midas List. Paul suggested focusing specifically on finance and accounting services, after struggling with this function himself at Puente and seeing many Adams Street portfolio companies go through similar challenges. The idea resonated, and Tim and Scott ultimately asked Paul to join as co-founder and CEO.
OpStart soon received startup funding from a few angel investors, including Tim. Things continued to move quickly, and before Paul knew it, OpStart was signing customers. The problem? They hadn’t yet hired an accountant.
“That time was scary, but we got through it with that typical startup scrappiness,” he said. “I begged one of my college roommates to help with our first client in his spare time, then convinced my aunt to join as a part-time bookkeeper when our second client signed.”
Paul soon found another person to come on as OpStart’s controller and chief of staff, but that individual left for a new opportunity just two weeks into the job. Luckily, Paul was able to quickly pivot to a new hire, fellow Notre Dame graduate Adelle Barte, who remains in this role today.
“I wish I would’ve trusted my gut, but I definitely learned to hire people based on cultural fit rather than just work experience,” he said.
Today, OpStart powers financial operations for nearly 100 startups nationwide, including local companies like SIMBA Chain, Aeris Surgical, heARsight, Juke, SleepEasy, Rides2U, Tessellated, Kinga Safety, Soulstir, and several others. Elevate Ventures recently led a Series Seed financing round which positions OpStart to invest more into its technology and growth initiatives.
Community and Advice
Paul noted that while the majority of his funding came from outside the South Bend – Elkhart region, he has been able to get fully immersed in the community. In addition to funding from Elevate Ventures, OpStart received guidance from the organization’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Nick Kuhn. Paul also has worked closely with the IDEA Center at Notre Dame and participated in Startup South Bend – Elkhart’s Founder Factory, where he was able to connect with local entrepreneurs about the services OpStart provides. Paul also was a guest on the Startup South Bend – Elkhart and Elevate Venture’s collaborative podcast, Rooted & Reaching. He has become a staple of this community and is a founder who wants to help other founders, a unique characteristic in the world of entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurship is not about giant leaps and major strategic improvements, it’s about putting one foot after the other,” he said. “People hesitate to start their own businesses because they want to wait for the perfect idea, but being a founder is not about having the perfect idea: it’s about being gritty and resilient so you overcome the challenges that will inevitably come with starting a business.”