Many of our founders are working with Excell Partners, a VC fund that’s primarily focused on Upstate New York. It invests in high-tech, high-growth startups in New York State, and has an added focus of investing in minority- and women-owned ventures. The companies in its portfolio are within the medical device, materials, energy, biotech, agtech, imaging, and IT/software industries.
NextCorps talked to CEO, Theresa Mazzullo, about how Excell partners with the NextCorps community, and its incredible impact on our regional economy.
What are most people surprised to learn about our region and why it’s a great place to grow a business?
The Rochester Finger Lakes region has many assets. While it’s well known for award-winning wineries and breweries, we believe its greatest advantages are found in the region’s four enabling pillars of technologic strengths: optics, photonics, and imaging; food and agtech; healthcare and life sciences; and advanced manufacturing. The companies innovating in these areas, along with their novel technologies, will help us deliver on the prophecy that Rochester will become the next technology hub in the United States.
One thing I think a lot of people would be surprised to know is the amount of capital that’s being raised inside and outside of Upstate New York. Area startups are now regularly seeing double-digit, million-dollar funding — which was unheard of a few years ago — and benefiting from a growing network of interested investors. At Excell Partners alone, we’ve helped companies attract over a half a billion dollars in follow-on funding since 2016! These funds get re-invested into the regional economy to create a steady growth engine for economic development here.
Today, Excell Partners has 38 active companies in its portfolio and $40M under management. These companies hold 245 patents, and employ 623 people with an average salary of $78K.
How does Excell Partners help startups and emerging businesses in the Finger Lakes?
We help in three ways. First, we provide investment capital to startups. Our $25M Finger Lakes Fund was created specifically to invest in high-tech companies that are developing and growing in the Finger Lakes region. This fund had a banner year in 2021. It had over $60M in co-investment — from VCs and strategic partners including Morgan Stanley, Hamilton Lane, State Farm, Constellation Brands, and GNC — and this capital came from $5.6M that was invested in 10 deals. Since the fund’s inception, it has had a 49.5% return on investment.
The second way we help is by connecting startups with potential investors and partners. For example, Excell introduced Owl Autonomous Imaging to State Farm. Because the Fairport-based photonics startup created a camera for safer autonomous vehicle operation, there was strong interest. State Farm ended up leading a $15M Series A Round.
The third way we help is by providing hands-on support. We know pitching investors is one of the hardest things that founders have to do. They know their technology and their industry, but the financial side is often a new world to navigate. Rami Katz, Excell’s Chief Operating Officer, offers office hours every month at NextCorps to help its members practice their pitches and provide feedback — free. Our staff also participates regularly on panels and instructional seminars related to entrepreneurship, and acts as judges for regional competitions.
What one piece of advice would you give founders about raising capital?
It’s never too early to start building relationships. Ideally you should be reaching out before you need money to understand each investor’s process and timeline. Investors in Rochester are very giving of their time to help, but do your homework first to ensure you’re not wasting it. Look at what companies they invest in and where the follow-on funding is coming from to see if it aligns with your industry, technology, and plan.