RFPIO was in our first cohort of investments that we made at Elevate Capital. I met RFPIO’s CEO, Ganesh Shankar, even before I launched Elevate. When Ganesh came to pitch at a TiE event in January 2016, I immediately sensed his passion and drive. It was infectious right from the beginning.
We took a one-on-one meeting—and in five minutes I knew that I was going to invest in RFPIO. Next we worked on helping Ganesh build an investment syndicate and introduced him to potential customers and advisors. TiE Oregon Angels, BVC (Bend Venture Conference) Fund, and Stephen Marsh (already a customer of RFPIO) all came together to help Ganesh raise $1.5 Million for RFPIO’s seed round.
I made this initial investment decision not only because of who Ganesh is as a person, but also because of the problem he was trying to solve. RFPIO is RFP automation software built specifically for people who respond to RFPs. Their technology makes a notoriously time-consuming and frustrating experience more efficient and positive for organizations.
It’s a huge market, and it seemed like they hit the nail on the head in terms of product market fit. RFPIO is a fabulous product, and the people who use the software absolutely love it. The RFPIO team has been acquiring customers at a rate that is truly unprecedented.
Ganesh has all of the qualities of a successful entrepreneur. His personality leads to a very high degree of success. He has a knack for generating revenue through sales, and a way of pulling people together with him to push that momentum forward. So, it’s not surprising that Ganesh and his team would raise $25 million in a series A investment in just 18 months.
We are proud of Ganesh and the entire RFPIO team for their success. This marks a record-breaking return on investment for Elevate Capital. It’s been an incredible journey for all of us to get this far.
Elevate Capital Milestones Achieved in Less Than 2 Years
When we closed Elevate Capital Fund in August 2016, we wanted to bring our diversity and experience together to help transform early stage startups in the Pacific Northwest. We also knew we wanted to focus on underserved entrepreneurs, such as women, minorities, and those living in regions with fewer business opportunities outside metropolitan areas.
The passion was clearly there, but could we deliver results too? The answer is…YES! Since Elevate Capital launched, our team, partners, and community have grown exponentially stronger.
Here are some of the milestones we were determined to achieve…
- We will invest in a broad range of startups from tech to apparel, to food and beverage, to bioscience.
- We will tap into regions like the Willamette Valley, Central Oregon, SW Washington and Southern Oregon, where there has been traditionally less flow of capital.
- We will invest “Mentor Capital”—money and mentoring, from launch to series A, so you as a founder/entrepreneur can focus on building your business, while we become your partner in helping you be successful.
- We will be intentional about investments in under-represented entrepreneurs such as women and communities of color so our investments reflect the diversity we bring in our own team (East Indian, Hispanic, Black/Latino and women).
More than 70% of the founders of Elevate’s portfolio companies belong to the underserved populations we set out to support from the beginning—Women, African American, Latino, LGBTQ, Veterans, and other minorities.
Of that total, 60% are women entrepreneurs and about half are African American and Latino entrepreneurs. We have also invested in companies in underserved regions like Eugene and Portland, Maine.
Between Elevate’s two funds, the Elevate Capital Fund and the Elevate Inclusive Fund, we have invested over $5 million to-date. Our portfolio companies have raised almost $64 million of follow-on capital and created over 300 jobs. The combined market cap of these companies is now $150 million.
So far, there has been one exit…that company is RFPIO.
“Elevate Capital was the lead seed investor in RFPIO when they invested in our company two years ago and we’re extremely pleased and proud that they were able to receive such a significant return on their exit in such a short period of time. Now they will be taking some of those funds and continuing to invest in other deserving companies and entrepreneurs.” — Ganesh Shankar, CEO of RFPIO
A Venture Capital Fund That Supports Inclusion and Diversity
I started Elevate Capital because I saw a market opportunity—and the market opportunity was investing in entrepreneurs that have a hard time raising money. These entrepreneurs include women, people of color, and people in rural regions.
Less than 4% of venture capital goes to women entrepreneurs, and less than 1% is awarded to African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities. I have yet to see a difference in the quality of ideas in the types of products that these entrepreneurs want to produce.
When I started my company First Insight 25 years ago, I faced similar challenges. I was overlooked because I was a minority. I decided to step up to the plate and make a positive impact on the business community. So, I started investing in underrepresented entrepreneurs in the Pacific Northwest.
I’m one of the only male VC’s out there whose majority of portfolio companies are owned by women and minorities. This strategy was all very intentional, and I am proud of my team and portfolio CEOs, my investors and supporters—including TiE Oregon—for making Elevate Capital possible. It took a village to accomplish this, and we have only just started.
Today Elevate Capital manages one of the nation’s first venture capital funds to support inclusion and diversity. Over the past two years we’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to find such investable entrepreneurs. We help them grow and expand their business successfully—and obtain liquidity opportunities to create wealth in their communities, while generating excellent returns for our investors.
RFPIO is living proof of what can happen when a minority entrepreneur-led startup receives the support they need. RFPIO co-founders Ganesh Shankar, AJ Sunder, Sankar Lagudu, all Indian immigrant entrepreneurs, have worked hard throughout their careers to blaze a path for other underrepresented entrepreneurs.
The immigrant drive and strive was clearly on display in this team. They are committed to “paying it forward” to the community, partners, and customers who have supported them on their journey. They are the inspiration that drives Elevate Capital’s mission everyday.
“It was a privilege to work closely with Nitin Rai and the rest of the team at Elevate Capital and TiE Oregon. They have been awesome to work with as well as great mentors and advisors during the past couple of years.” — Ganesh Shankar, CEO of RFPIO
How Strong Mentorship Impacts Startup Success
RFPIO is the perfect example of how strong mentorship can make a monumental difference in the execution of a company. Our relationship was always symbiotic. What I loved about working with Ganesh and his team was how they listened to their board and advisors, but always stayed true to the direction of RFPIO’s vision.
About a year ago, when RFPIO was performing at such an amazing clip, Ganesh didn’t want to raise more capital. In truth, his company grew 1000% in a year and he didn’t need to. When he received an incredible offer series A offer, we advised him that this was the opportunity that would really catapult the company forward.
RFPIO accepted the $25 million series A funding, and Elevate Capital decided to exit. With a new investment firm coming on board, I felt that they would offer more value at this point. I get a company to a certain point, then I step away. I have 22 other companies to take care of—RFPIO is in good hands. Throughout the process Ganesh showed his support for us, once again demonstrating his admirable entrepreneurial qualities. It was a win-win for everybody.
Being a Venture Capitalist Is About Making an Impact
The most valuable thing I’ve learned as an investor is that it is possible to do good AND make money at the same time. You must recognize that entrepreneurship, passion, and desire are universal. You must dig into somebody’s passion and support them through their entire journey as an entrepreneur. A great example of that is RFPIO.
Ganesh and RFPIO’s co-founders have the energy and commitment it takes to run a highly successful business. Just seeing them grow and thrive until they arrived at this point is extremely gratifying.
I wish Ganesh and the RFPIO team all the best in this next exciting phase. As for the Elevate team…we’re ready to guide more aspiring entrepreneurs so they can reach similar levels of success.