The principals of Vision City, the group that redeveloped the Hotel Indigo and Kress @ Third and Main, announced plans Friday to establish a $50 million venture capital fund. The money would support projects ranging from turning the downtown Capital One bank building into a business incubator with room for 20 to 25 companies to backing a company that connects independent truckers with loads that need to be transported.
John Schneider, managing partner of Vision City, said the goal is to build on the success of the Kress and Hotel Indigo projects, along with the firm’s business accelerator Springboard Baton Rouge. The goal is to raise the money from investors in three stages, ending in first-quarter 2014.
“Is this ambitious? Yes. Is it doable? Yes,” Schneider said to an audience of about 75 potential investors and downtown stakeholders.
The Capital Region Venture Fund would concentrate its investments in three areas: Real estate, digital media and film and technology. Schneider notes those fields all offer investment tax credits, as well as being intertwined for quality of life. The goal is to turn downtown into an entrepreneurial hub, he said.
The first phase of the fund calls for raising $5 million by Dec. 31. The founders have put up $1 million and could cover the entire $5 million, but Schneider said he is looking for “community buy-in.”
Schneider said the fund is eyeing support for several real estate development projects, all of which are based downtown. One project would turn the Capital One building into a business incubator, with about 400 young entrepreneurs working in the space. Capital One has put the property on the market and is currently entertaining offers, Schneider said.
A bank spokesman would not comment, citing a Capital One policy of not talking about real estate deals until they are finalized.
Another project would put the empty EBRATS building back into use, with a pharmacy or grocery store on the first floor and office space on the second and third floors. Adjoining parcels could be combined to create a parking garage with 800 to 1,200 spaces for cars. That garage would serve the 19th Judicial District Courthouse and the renovated downtown library.
A condominium project on Spanish Town Road and an “Air Rights Building” overlooking the North Boulevard Town Square also are being considered.
“We’ve got to set the bar high,” Schneider said. “What’s the saying? If you don’t dream big, go home.”
The venture capital fund plans to make grants of $250,000 or less to accelerate the growth of startup companies to develop them to the point that they can market themselves to investors. Five firms have been identified for the first round of funding: Vivid Images, which allows clients to use full-color photographs with text in email advertising blasts; Grantware, which simplifies the process for tracking how federal grants are spent; Punchlist, which allows clients to communicate in real time with contractors and subcontractors and share photos to speed up the process of clearing up construction punch lists; Site Side, which puts independent truckers with loads that need to be transported; and RQR, which allows smartphone users to read QR codes as far away as 75 feet.
Schneider said this would allow shoppers to point at signs and get information about sales or read menus from a distance.
Schneider said the venture fund will provide grants of up to $250,000 to three other companies that are a little further along in their development: CleanTech Technologies, a recycling process that turns old tires into component parts; VideoAvatars, which develops avatars to narrate browsers through websites; and My Health First, a mobile app that allows African-American women to create personal health plans.
A $3 million horror movie, “Something Evil,” is also set to receive money from the fund.
“We’re going to find out the extent of the community buy-in and work these projects one by one,” Schneider said.