Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, co-owners and co-CEOs of Emeryville, Calif.-based Clif Bar, built a reported $340 million business selling energy bars and other healthful snacks. In 2008 the duo launched White Road Investments, a venture capital firm bankrolling businesses that value sustainability and community involvement.
We caught up with Deven Clemens, managing director of White Road and senior director of corporate finance at Clif Bar, to learn what makes a startup attractive to him.
Why did Clif Bar get into the VC world?
When Gary talks about White Road, he talks about his desire to create the venture firm he wishes he had when he was building Clif Bar. White Road started in 2008 but really took off in 2010, when Gary and Kit started an employee stock-ownership program, selling 20 percent of Clif Bar to the employees. They wanted to use the cash to help build the business community, and White Road became the vehicle to do it.
How is White Road different from other VC firms?
The primary differentiator is getting in and sharing our expertise in a very deep way, whether that means lending creative brainpower, providing answers to sales and distribution questions or helping with back-end finance and operations. Some VC firms are doing that, but few do it to the extent we do. Also, we often have a longer-term focus; we don't go in with an exit strategy of any kind.
What does White Road look for in a startup?
We'll fund companies of any size--the 10 companies in our portfolio range from $1 million to $60 million in revenue. In terms of markets, we try to stick to areas we know, funding companies that offer consumer products that are healthy, organic and sustainable. We call it our "five aspirations": companies with a focus on brand, people, planet, community and business.
One of our investments is in a company named Big Tree Farms, a leader in bringing coconut palm sugar, which is an emerging alternative sweetener, to the U.S. market. In addition to having a great product, they work really well with their local community in Bali, and they support farmers in Indonesia. That's the kind of business model we want to get behind.
What White Road hopes to share is that a company's financial bottom line can benefit significantly from focusing on some of this other stuff.
What are some companies you admire?
A few other companies that we think are doing great work include Amy's, Nature's Path and Traditional Medicinals. They have created positive change and enjoyed great success.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor in Healdsburg, Calif. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur, and has covered startups and entrepreneurship for The New York Times, TIME and CIO. He also covers a variety of other topics, including travel, parenting, education and -- seriously -- gambling. He can be found on his personal website, Whalehead.com.