- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A Washington, D.C.-based venture capitalist towing a customized travel trailer across the United States and Canada this summer looking for good investments has a blunt message for burgeoning entrepreneurs in the land of soil and oil: Stop being so North Dakota nice.

Paul Singh is approaching the halfway mark of his 34-city trip to listen to hundreds of sales pitches, dole out advice and in many cases write big checks to startup companies. Before coming to Fargo last week, he said he invested $100,000 in a Pennsylvania company.

Singh joked with attendees at a drone conference in Fargo that his five-day stopover allowed him to drop the F-bomb in his 47th state. Then he politely told them to find their swagger.

“It’s not bragging if it’s true,” Singh said in an interview afterward. “The real tragedy of Fargo entrepreneurs is that they’re as good as their peers in every other city, but because they are so humble, because they are using dinner party etiquette in a business context, they are getting overlooked.”

Greg Syrup, managing director of a Grand Forks angel fund that invests in startups, managed to stake out a half-hour with Singh in Fargo. Syrup called Singh a trailblazer who is refreshingly blunt and brazen. Syrup isn’t sure if the nix nice advice would take hold.

“A lot of what he says is true. We do tend to be too polite in business,” Syrup said. “People in the Midwest just prefer to couple their risk with someone who they can trust. It usually takes a few handshakes to earn that, in my experience.”

Despite a recent downtown in crop and oil prices, North Dakota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and Fargo especially has seen growth in the tech sector. U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, of North Dakota, who joined Singh in a meeting with Fargo entrepreneurs, has introduced a bill that would give startups in small cities and rural areas the financial lift to get started.

“North Dakota’s startups have just as much potential as those in Silicon Valley or New York,” Heitkamp said. “They just need access to opportunities like they did meeting with Paul Singh.”

Singh has invested in more than 1,600 companies in 60 countries and almost every state, mostly on deals that have done in one-stop airport hubs. This year, he decided to give up airport hopping, sell his house and buy a 30-foot Airstream trailer. He proceeded to install a hybrid computer system, solar panels, high-powered electrical system, air ducts, water tank to last seven days, and cherry wood cabinets and granite countertops that replicate those in his Ashburn, Virginia house.

“I want to know what it’s like to build a company in these places,” Singh said. “I want to know what it’s like to live, work and play there.”

Singh, who will be spending the rest of the month in British Columbia and Montana, said he can usually tell within five minutes whether a company is worth his money.

“I’m usually starting from a position of yes,” Singh said. “Because you can’t be in this industry without being optimistic.”

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Find Paul Singh’s tour stops online at http://www.resultsjunkies.com/

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