The county's first angel investor group is halfway through its mission in one sense, or two-thirds in another. It has a dozen startup business investments under its belt and leadership is looking ahead to the endgame — and a new beginning.
But don't count out Kern Venture Group just yet. It may even be picking up a little boost from the pandemic.
Co-founder and co-managing partner John-Paul "JP" Lake said Thursday the rate at which he receives pitch decks, the digital slideshows entrepreneurs send out in search of equity investments, started slowing down three to four months ago. This may have been because of the pandemic but Lake noted it's hard to say for sure.
In about the last two months, though, "it's actually really started picking up again," he said. Now he's hopeful Bakersfield-based KVG will place another investment or two by the end of the year — a good sign to him.
"There could be a lot of pent-up demand for capital," he said.
Meeting that need is what KVG is all about. It raised $2.15 million from local individuals with a plan to choose a series of worthy recipients over a course of three years ending in December 2021. Lake said more than half of that sum has now been allocated.
After that KVG hopes to cultivate its investments until the seventh year. By then, Lake said, the idea is that investors behind the group will have received a healthy financial return because some of the startups will have been acquired or become publicly traded companies.
That would in some respects be the end of KVG, except there are discussions now about how to put together a second locally based angel investor group. Lake declined to speak publicly about those talks.
He was optimistic about the group's remaining 13 to 14 months, noting KVG was pleased to see a big achievement by a Bakersfield-based company it invested in named Mill It.
The plant-based food startup founded by Bakersfield food chemist and scientist Bill Myers has secured shelf space in 100 Whole Foods Market stores along the East Coast, Lake said.
"That's a huge success for him," he said. "Early results are very, very promising and Whole Foods seems to be very pleased with the product."
One of KVG's investors, Bakersfield business consultant Sheryl Barbich, said she hasn't noticed a slowdown in pitch decks. She added that may be because the group's managing partners are the ones who see all funding applications as they come in.
"However," she said by email, "from the investor side, it seems like there are more than enough quality pitches being made."
"It is fascinating," she continued, "to see what creative, innovative people have come up with."