A venture capital fund led by women investors to back women-owned startups has raised $4.5 million so far toward a $20 million goal.
Belle Michigan Impact Fund LP has attracted 57 investors to date, including its first institutional investor in Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank Corp.
Since forming last summer, the fund has invested about $1.4 million in seven startups, all based in Michigan.
Among them was Apres Beverages LLC in Battle Creek, a startup company launched last fall that’s behind the Cask & Kettle brand of ready-to-brew hot cocktails, Irish coffee and spiked dry apple cider. The products are used in Keurig and other coffee machines.
The Belle Michigan Impact Fund invested $200,000 in the company, said Carolyn Cassin, the fund’s co-founder and general partner.
Apres Beverages, which partnered with Temperance, Mich.-based Temperance Distilling Co. to craft the hot cocktails, has been using the capital for marketing and to generate product awareness, ramp up production, and develop new products, said co-founder and General Manager Lucinda Wright.
This summer, Apres Beverages plans to introduce a Mexican coffee based on tequila, Mexican chocolate and a dark roast coffee, plus a vodka-based “hot blonde” with light roast coffee and vanilla.
The Belle Michigan Impact Fund investment, which closed in February, will help Apres Beverages scale up and move beyond startup mode, Wright said. Going from two to four products enables Apres Beverages “to actually have a more viable presence in the market to break through,” she said.
“Their investment put us over the top from just subsistence,” said Wright, noting the company was supported at the onset by investments from family and friends.
“The money that we had raised got us through the fall (of 2018) and into the launch, and then their money came in to help us continue to accelerate our expansion, but more importantly now work on velocity — work on being successful where we are, work on scaling out new products,” she said. “It came at just the right moment to go from subsistence level to launch to now gaining traction and driving velocity and success, which we’re right in the midst of trying to get.”
Distributed by spirits wholesaler, the company sells its product at about 500 stores in eight states, a little more than 200 of them in Michigan. Retail outlets range from specialty stores to large retailers such as Wesco and D&W Fresh Markets in Michigan, to more than 100 Safeway stores in Arizona and Albertsons grocery stores in Nevada.
The Belle Michigan Impact Fund, based in Grosse Pointe Farms, plans to continue seeking investors and has been in due diligence with other potential institutional investors. The fund is working “with a series of foundations and banks to make an investment this year,” Cassin said.
Canadian Imperial Bank invested in the fund after the $5 billion acquisition in 2017 of The PrivateBank, which had offices in Michigan.
“We see a pretty clear path to $10 million,” she said. “I hope we get to the $20 million. If not, we’ll get a long way to that.”
The Belle Michigan Impact Fund on April 5 reported to federal regulators that it raised another $700,000 to bring its fundraising total to $4.1 million since last summer. Since the filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the fund signed two more limited partners to bring the total to $4.5 million, Cassin said.
In addition to her role at Belle Michigan Impact Fund, Cassin also serves as the president and CEO of Michigan Women Forward. The organization, formerly known as the Michigan Women’s Foundation, focuses on empowering women entrepreneurs and leaders.
Cassin considers the Belle Michigan Impact Fund “pretty ground breaking,” given the focus on addressing the gender gap in venture capital by recruiting all female investor and backing female-owned startups.
In Michigan, 10 percent of venture capital-backed companies were led by female CEOs in 2018, twice the rate nationally, according to the 2019 Michigan Venture Capital Association research report.
Cassin and co-founder Nancy Philippart, a one-time General Motors executive, started the Belle Michigan Impact Fund as an outgrowth of a previous $2.5 million venture capital fund they formed in 2012. That initial fund, known as the Belle Capital Fund, was backed by 29 female investors and invested in 14 women-owned companies.
Belle Capital gas also formed a $1 million side fund where limited partners can separately invest in and “double down on deals they like or companies they like,” Cassin said.
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