Elevate Capital recently named moovel alum Nat Parker as its entrepreneur in residence.
Parker made his name as the founder of GlobeSherpa while at Portland State University, which first powered TriMet's mobile ticketing app. Moovel North America later purchased the company. Parker left moovel shortly after its merger with Reach Now and before the withdrawal of the ReachNow carshare fleet from Portland and other cities.
After stepping down as CEO of moovel, Parker said he would move to Berlin for at least a year where his wife is from, because of her immigration status in the United States. He is working on a new startup in stealth mode. However, Parker will spend some of his time back in Oregon. As Elevate Capital's entrepreneur in residence, Parker will check in with Elevate's other startups by video link to mentor their executives, and visit occasionally.
Elevate Capital bills itself as Oregon's first venture capital fund that supports inclusion and diversity. It invests in entrepreneurs who are women and minorities, including people of color. Nitin Rai, Founder and Managing Director of Elevate Capital, served as a mentor, investor, and board member for Parker when he operated GlobeSherpa.
"He lives in a virtual world, we're used to this stuff, so we have no issues," Rai told the Business Tribune of Parker's ability to work in Germany and Portland simultaneously. "Nat is an incredible entrepreneur who combines a high level of passion and drive with the ability to learn quickly and motivate teams around difficult tasks. We are proud to support him in his next company and excited to see what he comes up with next."
Parker said in a release: "Elevate Capital has created a new model of venture financing that sees strength in diverse teams behind high-growth ideas."
Rai describes Elevate Capital modestly.
"We're not a large investor, but we've been able to see a couple of early liquidity events."
Elevate Capital is a venture capital firm that invests in early-stage underrepresented entrepreneurs, including women, and minorities that include communities of color, veterans, and entrepreneurs located in underserved areas. Elevate Capital makes these through two funds, the Elevate Capital Fund and the Elevate Inclusive Fund. Since 2016, Elevate Capital has invested more than $7.5 million in 36 diverse startups in the Pacific Northwest.
Rai explains, "This approach of targeting women of color gave us the ability to access a pipeline which people don't often see. We've found great entrepreneurs and founders. We were able to make many investments, to get some early excitement, and get some liquidity and recycle it into the ecosystem."
No one is looking to get rich from Elevate's level of investing.
"Our model is to make two or three times your money in a short time, three to five years, and then reinvest it. The model we have is very fruitful. It's high net worth individuals taking a small slice of the Northwest. And if you can get your money back, go back and play some more."
Rai calls it "mentor capital."
"Entrepreneurs in residence are common in the Bay Area. They work on a fund while working on their next idea. We're the first in Oregon to do it."
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"Despite the naysayers, we can do this in our back yard — focus on inclusion and diversity — and make it work. We're not throwing money at companies — we're getting fantastic returns. It's a sustainable culture."
He says the success of Garden Bar exemplifies Elevate Capital's mission. One of Elevate Capital's portfolio companies, the fast salad place Garden Bar, merged with Evergreens of Seattle in late August and expanded.
Both brands offer healthy eating on the go. This new partnership will combine Garden Bar and Evergreens resources to support 350 employees in Oregon and Washington at 26 locations, with three more forthcoming.
Garden Bar has been an Elevate Inclusive and Capital Fund portfolio company since 2013.
"This is not your typical company exit," said Ana Chaud, Founder and CEO of Garden Bar since 2014. "I still have a lot to contribute to our partnership with Evergreens, and I will stay on as the Vice President of Brand Development for Evergreens." In the interim, Garden Bar's nine restaurants will be known as "Garden Bar by Evergreens" and will eventually transition to the Evergreens name.
"When one of our portfolio companies successfully exits, that's when we create substantial value in the local economy," Rai said of Chaud and Garden Bar. "We liked her passion and drive, and she found a niche in the market. I think the first two she opened with her own money and borrowed that on credit cards. And she mortgaged her house. She's the typical founder who takes personal risks."
Chaud calls the build-your-own-salad joint a lifestyle brand.
"Today, people value meaningful experiences, not just a product or service... The substantial support and investment from Elevate Capital and TiE Oregon Angels put us ahead of the game by focusing on three things: validation, community support, and helping us grow our personal brand," added Chaud. "Having Elevate Capital in our corner to provide ongoing support and mentorship along our journey gave me self-confidence, motivation, and encouragement."
"I started Elevate Capital with a mission to invest in promising entrepreneurs, targeting entrepreneurs who are challenged and underserved with raising funding," said Rai. "Our mission is to help create wealth and opportunities, investing intentionally, supporting ideas, and making a positive impact."
Chaud at first came to TiE Oregon Angels, some of whom invested so she could open her next few stores.
"In 2013 she met her projections, and came to us," said Rai, who is president of The Indus Entrepreneurs' Oregon chapter. "She was just opening her fourth store when Elevate was founded and was funding women entrepreneurs."
He says her cost per store was much lower than expected, and they were capital efficient.
Stores five and six opened, then she wanted to go outside of Portland metro to Beaverton and Tigard. Elevate became a gap funder, and she was able to obtain a loan from Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon.
"She built a moat around Portland with her stores, they were where Evergreen would want to have their stores," Rai explained of her strategy. "It made sense to merge rather than to reinvent the wheel."
Rai estimates Elevate's investors in Garden Bar will double their money in this liquidity event.
The fund includes public money from Prosper Portland, Multnomah County and the city of Beaverton.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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