News Column

Venture Firm Seeks to Liberate Entrepreneurs

Nov. 27, 2012

Carol Hazard

Richmond, Va. (CoredesatChikai, Creative Commons)
Richmond, Va. (CoredesatChikai, Creative Commons)

Who will be the Richmond area's next job creators and how will they fund their operations?

New Richmond Ventures, a venture capital development firm, was formed a year ago by some of the area's most acclaimed businessmen to identify emerging leaders with big ideas and help them grow world-class businesses in this area.

"We are very supportive of the local coffee shop, but it's not what we are set up to do," said J. Robert "Bob" Mooney, one of four partners at New Richmond Ventures.

New Richmond Ventures provides a minimum $250,000 investment and mentoring to startup companies with a passion for social impact and business potential on national or global scales.

The company has invested, for example, in Evatran, which provides wireless recharging products for electric cars, eliminating the need to plug in vehicles and making them easier to recharge.

The technology involves an adapter on an electric car that allows the driver to pull up to a parking place equipped with a transmitter device to recharge the vehicle.

The startup has been through three rounds of funding from equity investors, but none resembles the latest infusion from NRV, said Rebecca Hough, 26, chief executive officer and co-founder of the family-owned business.

Typically, investors are concerned about their equity positions, Hough said.

"The difference for us is the focus that NRV puts on where we are going," she said, declining to say how much money the group invested. "They look at what impact we hope to have and how they can help us get to where we want to be."

Evatran's plant is in Wytheville, but the headquarters will relocate to the Richmond area in early 2013, Hough said.

Some might refer to New Richmond Ventures as an angel investor or venture capital firm.

However, the partners say they are not simply interested in putting money into a company with potential to increase shareholder value. Nor do they seek set returns on investments over pre-determined time periods.

"We are patient investors," Mooney said. "These are early-stage investments. They will take years to monetize."

Their mission, they say, is to help jumpstart the region as a hub for a new breed of startups.

The principals at New Richmond Ventures, including Mooney, are among Richmond's most influential:

--James E. Ukrop;

--Theodore L. Chandler Jr.; and

--Andy Stefanovich.

All four serve on numerous community and corporate boards, providing guidance on several levels in the Richmond area.

"As with many other business leaders, I am often called on to mentor or financially support local entrepreneurs on an ad hoc basis where I can see firsthand the difficulties that they face in growing a business from scratch," said Chandler, former chairman of the Greater Richmond Chamber and founding member of the Capital Region Collaborative.

"My conclusion from these experiences is that our community has all of the ingredients that early-stage companies require, but that those ingredients, such as mentoring, support services and patient capital, are poorly organized and difficult for entrepreneurs to access."

Against that backdrop, Chandler, Ukrop, Mooney, Stefanovich and Matt Rho, the first paid employee, came together to organize existing resources in a more focused way.

"We are kindred spirits in our desire to nurture promising local early stage companies that are engaged in high impact work that will benefit our community, and beyond," Chandler said.

"I didn't know exactly what NRV would do, but I knew that whatever it was, I wanted to do it with them. I think we will make a difference," Chandler said.

Chandler is the legal eagle with an ability to bring clarity to complex issues, his colleagues say. Ukrop brings the savvy business and people background. Mooney, described by his partners as purposeful and passionate, has the financial expertise. And Stefanovich is the marketing guru, energizer and creative force.

The partners span four generations with Ukrop in his 70s, Mooney in his 60s, Chandler in his 50s and Stefanovich in his 40s. Rho is in his 30s.

None of the partners is compensated or paid fees. Rather, they hold minority stakes individually and as a group in companies they take under their wings, leaving founders with majority ownership and control.

"We are about liberating entrepreneurs," said Rho, one of NRV's two employees and former chief operating and chief financial officer of PrecisionIR, a Chesterfield County-based provider of investor relations services.

NRV doesn't turn away any bright-eyed prospects. Its partners and employees have provided counsel and networking advice to more than 50 startups in the past year.

"We can't invest in everything, but we can provide guidance," Ukrop said.

"Jim (Ukrop) is the most intuitive person from a people point of view," Mooney said. "He is clearly committed to setting the tone for us. We are inclusive, not exclusive. Anyone who wants to meet with us, we will meet with them."

"We look for big ideas with big opportunities," Stefanovich said.

"We're attracted to a company with a mission and a passion to build a category or create a better version of a category that already exists," he said.

"These companies will change the way the world sees Richmond as a region," Stefanovich said.

MedCPU, for example, operates from the New Richmond Ventures office off East Cary Street in Shockoe Bottom. Yet, the medical software company, with funding from NRV, is working on pilot programs in 20 hospitals from Cleveland to New Orleans.

"What NRV has allowed us to do is to fund our business and move it further along in terms of milestones," said Dan Neuwirth, one of three partners with MedCPU.

The New Richmond Ventures partners stand by four criteria in selecting which entrepreneurs to support:

The business must be based in the Richmond area.

Founders must be passionate about their ideas and must demonstrate the ability to execute their visions.

The idea must solve a problem and have the potential for national and global scale and impact.

The companies must be immersed in social change with a sustainability component.

Decisions are made jointly and companies chosen for relationships must meet all criteria. A company might show enormous potential but it may be missing the social change piece, so it wouldn't make the cut.

Being engaged in social entrepreneurism -- changing the world for the good -- is the right thing to do, Mooney said.

Besides, millennials -- the youngest among emerging entrepreneurs -- want to be associated with companies that make a difference, he said.

The Partners

J. Robert "Bob" Mooney: Former partner for more than 20 years at Coopers & Lybrand, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, and former chief financial officer of Ethyl Corp.

James E. Ukrop: former chairman and CEO of Ukrop's Super Markets -- once the No. 1 grocery chain in the Richmond area -- and former chairman of First Market Bank, both of which were sold in 2010.

Theodore L. Chandler Jr.: former chairman and CEO of the now defunct LandAmerica Financial Group Inc., and former lead director of Hilb, Rogal and Hobbs Co., two Richmond-area financial services company.

Andy Stefanovich: an executive with the global branding firm Prophet (he had co-founded Play, a Richmond-based creativity and innovation consultancy that was sold to San Francisco-based Prophet in 2008), and author of "Look at More."

NEW RICHMOND VENTURES: INVESTMENTS

New Richmond Ventures has invested in six startups:

--Evatran: Provides wireless recharging products for electric cars, eliminating the need to plug in vehicles.

--MedCPU: Richmond-based provider of real-time support software that pulls together medical records so healthcare practitioners can make better treatment decisions for their patients.

--Intelliject Inc.: Richmond-based specialty pharmaceutical company that takes drug delivery devices and makes them better and more effective. It has developed a credit-card-sized device that delivers a dose of epinephrine to prevent anaphylactic shock in people with severe allergies. It received final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the company's Auvi-Q device.

--Knotts Creek Industries: Richmond-based provider of water purification technologies installed on top of cooling towers that saves water usage.

--PlanG: An online technology that allows consumers to give and track their donations, potentially increasing the amount of money given to charities.

--Fulcrum Collaborations: A South Richmond custom software development firm that uses technologies and processes that allow for the delivery of fast and cost effective business software solutions.


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Source: (c)2012 Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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