Who’s got the back of Oakland startups when it comes to funding? Well, a number of investors – from seed-stage angel investors to venture capitalists to social impact investors – have their eye out for what’s happening in Oakland and nearby.
In fact right now, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, an impact investor based in Oakland’s Preservation Park, is inviting young entrepreneurs with innovations that will “improve peoples’ lives” to submit their ideas. In a newly launched seed funding campaign for local entrepreneurs older than 18 but younger than 30, the foundation is offering the Bay Area Inspire Awards for ideas that will improve lives. But the idea can’t be just a better toaster or music player. It’s got to help people in the areas of education, housing options or displacement prevention, environmental sustainability, immigrant rights, family services or good jobs. If Philanthropic Ventures sees the idea as viable and helpful, it will award the launch team up to $10,000. Read about the terms here.
Inner City Advisors, Kapor Capital and NewSchools Venture Fund are all based in Oakland and scout for startup innovations that will both help society and provide good returns on investment, though not exclusively in Oakland. That dual focus on return-on-investment and social good is sometimes referred to as “double bottom line” investing.
Inner City Advisor’s Fund Good Jobs investment arm was a major investor in Impact HUB Oakland, the co-working and innovation space that has been the rave of Oakland’s entrepreneurial set in the few months it has been open.
Then there is DBL Investors, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm whose very name is an acronym of double bottom line investing, but which nonetheless is a more pure-play venture firm focusing more on potential return on investments than non-profits do because of its fiduciary duty to investors.
Managing Partner Nancy Pfund was an early investor in Oakland’s most well known and largest tech company, Pandora, as well as in BrightSource Energy, an Oakland-based solar utility company, and Tesla Motors, the electric car maker based in Fremont which gave the clean tech industry a second wind. DBL also invested in Oakland-based Ecologic Brands, Revolution Foods, and LiveScribe as well as Primus Power in Hayward, NEXTracker in Fremont and View in Milpitas.
But venture capitalists and angel investors generally specialize by industry, not by geography. So it is hard to generalize about who invests in Oakland.
However, Claremont Creek Ventures is a full-scale venture capital firm based right here in Oakland, so local companies might more easily come to its attention than to the attention of VCs based in Silicon Valley.
“We are East Bay entrepreneurs ourselves,” said Claremont Creek co-founder and managing director Randy Hawks. “Our careers have been in the East Bay so we have networks established here. And we thought it was an underserved area for venture capital investing,” he said as to why his firm located its headquarters here.
Claremont Creek Ventures pays particular attention to ideas coming out of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley that are trying to go to market as companies.
It took a lead investment in Alphabet Energy Inc., one of the hottest – or actually coolest since it is helping cool our planet – clean tech companies around and whose original research was done at Lawrence Berkeley Labs. Alphabet Energy is developing products to help manufacturers convert waste heat to electricity through a proprietary thermoelectric technology. Claremont Creek was among a handful of investors providing $16 million it the company’s last financing round last year.
Claremont also was an early funder of ShotSpotter, the gunshot detection software used by the Oakland Police Department and many other city police departments to quicken response times to shootings and to aid investigations of crimes. ShotSpotter is based in nearby Newark.
Mosaic, a pioneering solar energy financing company that developed a crowd-funding mechanism to finance solar installations and is another of Oakland’s larger tech companies, attracted investment from Spring Ventures, a San Francisco VC firm that specializes in clean technology.
Breezy, an Oakland startup which developed a way to allow secure printing from any device to any device, was backed by venture companies Accel Partners, Founder Collective, SoftTech VC, and Felicis Ventures
According to Angel List, there are about 30 individuals who are angel investors who live, work or invest in Oakland. Angel investors make personal investments in startups and early stage companies. Some of the local angel investors identified by Angel List are big names including Mitch Kapor of Kapor Capital and Kapor Center for Social Impact, and some are local entrepreneurs such Naveen Jains, CEO if Sparkart and founder of the Immunity Project.
Others include David Havens who works at NewSchools Ventures Fund, and Maggie Utgoff, who served as social media director on Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor and is now vice president of operations at Hack Reactor. More Oakland angel investors can be found here.