February 3, 2017

Fresh Tracks takes a fresh approach

T.J. Whalen

T.J. Whalen

By Bruce Edwards
Correspondent

SHELBURNE — The list of companies is impressive: Vermont Teddy Bear, SunCommon, Brighter Planet, Mamava, Budnitz Bicycles. These are among the 30 companies that Fresh Tracks Capital has invested in over the years.

Now the Shelburne venture capital firm is about to launch a new fund, Fresh Tracks Capital IV, which will invest in up to 15 companies, mostly in Vermont, that are just starting out.

The fund’s new manager is T.J. Whalen, who was also named a general partner.

“The part of it that I will focus on that is somewhat unique to what Fresh Tracks has been doing is a little bit more of a pronounced focus in consumer products and food and beverage sectors, which Vermont produces a lot of for all the right reasons,” Whalen said.

Whalen knows the food and beverage industries well. He spent 13 years with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Keurig Green Mountain), where he served as chief strategy and sustainability officer. He also served as the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Whalen will lean on his experience at Keurig as he manages the new fund. He also spent time at Patagonia, Leo Burnett and Adventurous Traveler.

Vermont has carved a niche in value-added products with an explosion in craft breweries and distilleries, as well as artisanal food products that Whalen said “have a unique ingredient or sourcing,” including organic and fair trade.

“Those are certainly all business sectors that Vermont has a lot of activity in and that we will surely take a look at,” Whalen said.

Before making an investment, he said the key is getting to know “a lot of players to figure out which one you’re going to make a bet on.”

Fresh Tracks co-founder Cairn Cross said in a statement accompanying the fund launch that the state has become an incubator for business startups.

“We are seeing a steady increase in both the quantity and quality of Vermont’s entrepreneurs and new businesses, which is what led us to create this new fund,” Cross said.

Because of Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, Whalen said he is prohibited at this time from identifying specific companies, risk, or the amount of money the fund hopes to raise.

He did say the investments are long term, with the bulk of investments made “early in the company’s life cycle or early in their growth curve.”

Although Vermont isn’t alone when it comes to value-added food and beverage offerings, Whalen said the state “is somewhat unique” in the concentration of those types of companies.

Whalen also said the firm only solicits what’s referred to as “accredited investors.” The SEC considers an accredited investor as someone with a net worth of $1 million and annual earned income in excess of $200,000.

While the focus will be on Vermont companies because Fresh Tracks has an interest in furthering economic development here, Whalen said the firm also would consider opportunities close to Vermont.

Fresh Tracks Capital was started in 2000 by Cairn Cross and Charlie Kireker. To date, the company has invested $45 million in 30 companies, 20 in Vermont. Industries range from consumer products and solar to high-tech manufacturing and health care information technology.

The firm’s general partners and managing directors are Cairn Cross, Lee Bouyea and T.J. Whalen.

 

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