1855 Capital—a $10 million-plus venture fund created to help meet the growing need for Penn State startups to have access to seed and early-stage venture capital—completed its initial fundraising round in 2018. The raise included $500,000 from the Penn State Alumni Association.
1855 Capital focuses its investments on companies with roots in Penn State’s world-class research and educational environment. Created by Penn Staters for Penn Staters, the company is conveniently located in Innovation Park at Penn State where fund managers are able to engage with faculty, staff, students and alumni founders and team members to know which startups might become potential investments.
“Being present on the Penn State campuses statewide exposes us to innovations driven by the brightest and most energetic of our community,” says 1855 Capital Managing Director Matt Rhodes (Eberly College of Science, BS Physics in ’79), “When we connect their passion to resources that can allow these projects to have global impact, we all win.”
Rhodes, a serial entrepreneur with experience in both startup and leadership of $1B+ semiconductor businesses has a track record of leading companies to profitable market winning positions in hyper competitive environments. “As a venture capitalist you need to be present enough to judge the risk,” Rhodes explained. “Be present. Be involved. There are 40 – 50 startup companies in Innovation Park, and I could give you a one-sentence pitch about each of them.”
The fund, interested in IT, advanced materials, fintech, edtech, healthcare, and medical device industries, looks for scalable companies with an identifiable core technological competency and the potential to compete effectively in the marketplace. Importantly, their technology needs to be disruptive, changing the way business is done.
1855 already has invested in three startups with Penn State connections, and a fourth deal is being finalized. Reflexion Interactive Technologies, co-founded by current Penn State Biochemistry major, Matthew Rhoda, developed neuro training technology for athletes (and coaches) that measures complex reaction time, peripheral vision, memory and decision making at the push of a button. It helps improve performance while also providing enhanced data for concussion and other cognitive testing. Their product is called The Edge. Reflexion was nominated for the Best Startup of 2018 at the Consumer Electronics show.
1855 Capital has also invested in Phospholutions, founded by recent Penn State alum Hunter Swisher (B.A.Sc., Plant Sciences, ‘16). Phospholutions focuses on alleviating nutrient pollution through treatment, sustainable fertilizer production and nutrient management. Their go-to-market product, RhizoSorbTM, aims to reduce the environmental impact of fertilizer.
1855’s third investment, Pledge It , was founded by several Penn State Alumni football players. Pledge It is a free sports fundraising platform that empowers teams and athletes to raise money based on their performance. The Pledge It team includes Scott Shirley, CEO (B.S. M.Eng.), who played football and baseball; Dave Costlow, VP Marketing and Operations (B.S. in Information, Sciences and Technology, M.S. in Business Administration) an Academic All-American, who played football; and Ryan Gmerek, VP of Sales (B.S. in Finance), who also played football.
1855 Capital Managing Director Matt Rhodes, while finding investment opportunities like Pledge It, has worked diligently to develop his own team and collaborators, while also building the fund. He manages the fund with his partner and Managing Director Paul Sciabica, who has a broad background in early stage and middle market companies with experience in fund raising, product development, sales, marketing, strategic direction, leadership development and mergers and acquisitions. Their team also has close ties to Ben Franklin Technology Partners. The fund is a 10-year closed-end fund and Ben Franklin Technology Partners assures long-term stability of fund management.
While the 1855 Capital Fund has strong ties to the Penn State community, 1855 Capital is privately- owned and operated and is not directly affiliated with Penn State. For more information, visit www.1855capital.com.
“Being present on the Penn State campuses statewide exposes us to innovations driven by the brightest and most energetic of our community. When we connect their passion to resources that can allow these projects to have global impact, we all win.”
Managing Director, 1855 Capital