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Venture Capital in Vermont


Published October 7, 2008 at 9:26 a.m.

The reality of our job as institutional investors at FreshTracks means that out of every 100 businesses we review, we only invest in 1 opportunity. We see a lot of pitches that don’t fit our investment criteria. Maybe the business is too early on in its development, maybe it’s not in a market that we focus on, maybe the team isn’t a good fit for taking in venture capital. Whatever the reason, we often try to provide the entrepreneur with valuable feedback, and introduce them to additional helpful resources. Sometimes these efforts send the business down the right path, preparing it to take in outside capital, which we call becoming “equity ready” so that the opportunity will become more attractive to investors. FreshTracks often works to help entrepreneurs along the path towards growth and profitability whether or not we ever invest in the company. A few examples of companies that we helped along, and later invested in include:

  • NEHP, a company that FreshTracks tracked since 2003. When NEHP was a client of the Middlebury Solutions Group/Digital Bridges Program (a team of Middlebury student consultants) in 2005, I was a mentor to the team, helping them define NEHP’s value proposition and growth prospects. FreshTracks continued to monitor NEHP’s progress, and when the company was searching for a CFO in 2006, we introduced them to a candidate who was the right fit for the job. In concert with this newly placed CFO, FreshTracks then helped NEHP restructure its bank debt to be more growth friendly, before finally making an investment in the company in 2007.
  • In the case of ISIS, the Burlington-based women’s activewear company, my partner Cairn first met them in 1998, when the founders Carolyn Cooke and Poppy Gall had only a business plan. Cairn coached the co-founders as they prepared their pitch for the Vermont Investors Forum that year. The company was successful in raising angel funding, and later, VC funding from CEI Ventures and CEI Community Ventures. While FreshTracks didn’t invest in these early VC rounds, we did make an investment in the company a full 10 years later, in 2008.
  • Another example is Brighter Planet, a company that started out as an idea germinated during an Environmental Economics Class at Middlebury College, by Professor Jon Isham, and two of his students, Jake Whitcomb and Andy Rossmeissl. FreshTracks incubated the idea from early on in its development, giving Jake a desk in our office and an internship stipend along with Middlebury College while he worked on market research and formulating a business plan. Before we were ever equity holders of BP, all of the FreshTracks partners pitched in to help Brighter Planet at some point during its development, whether that was introducing the company to the North Country Angels, travelling to Boston to pitch the plan to Mindy Lubber of CERES and current advisory board member, or pitching in to help them model out their financial projections. All of these efforts helped the company along its way to becoming equity ready, raising a round of capital and partnering with Bank of America to issue its credit cards.