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Consumer Ventures

CompanyFirst is now Consumer Ventures™. Same great firm, just a new name!

About Us

Consumer Ventures™ invests in and works closely with passionate entrepreneurs to help them build great consumer-focused companies and brands.

Our Focus

We invest in consumer brands in industries such as food, beverage, personal care, apparel, kids products, and pet products.

Our Approach

We invest up to $1M in companies, typically those with less than $10M in revenues. We love to ask the question "How can we help?"

About Consumer Ventures

Consumer Ventures™ (formerly CompanyFirst) is a venture capital firm based in Chicago that is invests in and helps build the next generation of great consumer brands, products, retailers, and technologies enabling the consumer experience.

01 Priorities

Create compelling brands that connect emotionally with consumers. Invest and trust in amazing teams. Build awesome companies that support the mission and fuel sustainable growth. We are not unicorn hunters...we believe if you build great businesses you will have endless opportunity.

04 Focus

We focus on the exciting market of innovative, emerging consumer brands, products, and services. We invest in companies with high growth potential and solid fundamentals. We back passionate, inspired entrepreneurs with big ideas, a clear vision, and a plan for execution.

05 Strategy

We invest across multiple stages of growth, often starting with Series A rounds. We reinvest in success, i.e. continue to invest in the best companies in our portfolio across multiple rounds. We co-invest with great partners to bring the best resources to companies.

02 Humility

We are humbled by the myriad of amazing people and companies we have been fortunate to partner and work with. It is our privilege to have the opportunity to work with great entrepreneurs, and we are adamant that we must work diligently every day to continue to earn that right and their trust.

03 Integrity

The only way to treat people is with sincerity and integrity. No matter how much money or wealth one accumulates, we believe true worth is measured by your reputation and character. We commit to being open and honest, and expect others to do the same in return...in business and in life.

06 Value

We invest where we can add value and we like to ask how we can help. Our team is cross-functional and hands-on, with decades of experience spanning finance, strategy, marketing, and operations. We also draw on a strong network of advisors, partners, and industry experts.

Jason Starr

Managing Director

Jason has over two decades of experience spanning operations, technology, venture capital, and private equity. Jason is the founder of Consumer Ventures™, a venture capital firm focused on investing in and building emerging consumer brands and companies. Before Consumer Ventures™, Jason was the fund manager at CircleUp in San Francisco, through which he invested in dozens of consumer ventures. Prior to CircleUp, Jason spent over eight years at Winona Capital Management, a consumer-focused private equity firm in Chicago with over $300 million under management. Before Winona, Jason worked at venture capital firm Opus Capital in Silicon Valley and was a founder or early employee at several high-tech start-ups in Denver including BoldTech Systems, a “Deloitte Tech Fast 50” and “Inc. 500” company that was acquired by Perficient (NASDAQ PRFT). Prior to his entrepreneurial ventures, Jason spent over five years at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) where he was a project manager and software engineer. Jason graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with an MBA and holds a BSBA and MAS from the University of Denver, where he was an alumni scholar and graduated summa cum laude.

Jason’s Midwest roots set the guiding principles at Consumer Ventures™, which can basically be summed up as treat others as you would want them to treat you. Fanatical about entrepreneurship, Jason relishes the opportunity to roll up his sleeves and help emerging companies…whether that includes thinking through strategic options, financial planning, improving operations, implementing technology, or just pounding the pavement at trade shows. Jason and his family live in the Chicago area where his free time is spent coaching a variety of youth sports and volunteering at the University of Chicago as a mentor, coach, and judge in their business plan competitions and start-up accelerator / incubator programs.

Jeff Brezek

Operating Partner

Jeff is an Operating Partner at Consumer Ventures with over twenty years of sales and executive experience with both public and privately held organizations including over 10 years of working with Private Equity sponsors. Jeff is currently the CEO and Executive Chairman of Inovar Packaging, one of the premier digital printing companies North American (backed by AEA Investors and acquired by Kelso & Company). Before Inovar, Jeff was President & CEO of Fort Dearborn Company, a leading supplier of packaging and label solutions with 15 manufacturing facilities and 1,700 employees. Fort Dearborn works with many of the world’s most recognizable consumer companies and brands such as Unilever, Nestle, KraftHeinz, and Coke. Fort Dearborn was backed by KRG Capital Partners and acquired by Advent International. Before Fort Dearborn, Jeff spent 10 years with RR Donnelley where he served in various sales and management roles.

Jeff received an MBA from DePaul University in Entrepreneurship and a BS in Marketing from Northern Illinois University. Passionate about building great businesses, Jeff embraces the opportunity to help emerging companies and brands navigate both the strategic and day-to-day challenges all businesses face. However, Jeff also understands the critical balance of providing value added support to management without compromising their unique ability to create value for their customers and support the people who deliver that value. Jeff and his family are from and currently reside in the Chicago area. In his free time, Jeff enjoys attending his kids’ sporting events, cooking, and traveling with his family.

Grace Beggins

Associate

Grace joined Consumer Ventures in 2021. Grace has over seven years of experience in finance, focusing on global emerging markets. Before joining Consumer Ventures, Grace worked on the Emerging Markets desk at Goldman Sachs in New York, trading fixed income securities with institutional clients.

Grace is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and holds a BBA from Emory University in Atlanta, GA. In her free time, Grace enjoys trying new restaurants, skiing, and visiting museums.

Tanvi Mago

Associate

Tanvi joined Consumer Ventures in 2021 as an Associate. Tanvi has over six years of experience in management consulting and consumer products strategy. Before joining Consumer Ventures, Tanvi worked in go-to-market strategy at baking kit start-up BaKIT Box. Prior to BaKIT Box, Tanvi worked at Beam Suntory as a North America Strategy Manager, where she led cross-functional projects around new product launches, marketing, and channel development. She also has led growth strategy and change management projects across companies in the financial services and manufacturing sectors.

Tanvi is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and holds a BA from the University Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her dog, traveling, and trying new wines.

Consumer Ventures Alumni

Former Team Members

Consumer Ventures is honored to have worked with so may great people, especially our former associates and colleagues that joined us through our relationship with Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center. Special shout out to our extended Consumer Ventures family:

  • Mary Scarpulla
  • Brandon Hall
  • Kirsta Kellin
  • Matt Ramoundos
  • Elisabeth McKenna
  • Grant Kushner
  • Deanna Wiblitzhouser
  • Nikki Zhao
  • Maya Menon

Jason has been an incredible asset to my company even before I launched and his investment. There is no question that Jason puts incredible pride and passion into his relationships and investments and he is willing to go far beyond the norm to help out the team. Jason’s involvement has been extremely helpful in multiple aspects of our business including financial planning and capital strategy. We are beyond grateful to have Jason on our cap table and board of advisors.

Dustin Finkel, Founder/CEO, Awakened Foods

Our Approach

We partner with entrepreneurs and work tirelessly to help them build a more valuable company. Fairly easy to say, but very difficult to do...and we love every minute of it.

Investment Focus

We focus on companies with $500k to $10 million in revenue. We love working with passionate, inspired entrepreneurs with innovative, high-growth businesses. We focus on industries where building a consumer brand is central to the strategy, for example:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Personal Care
  • Outdoor and Apparel
  • Juvenile Products
  • Pet Products

Investment Strategy

Growing businesses must be properly capitalized to drive growth, support working capital needs, and attack opportunities in the market. Even successful businesses can “grow broke” if they don’t proactively approach the financing of their business. Consumer Ventures™ invests capital across multiple rounds and stages to help support and fuel growth. We partner with our companies to develop and execute on a long-term capital plan to fuel growth and enable the team to keep their foot on the gas.

Empowerment

Consumer is not the typical domain of venture capital. We believe that investing in and empowering underrepresented and underestimated industries, regions, and people is incredible fuel that can lead to amazing things. We are not a social impact fund, but we report on the impact that our investments have, ranging from the diversity of our teams, the creation of products that are better for people and the world, and the empowerment of companies that have social missions and corporate social responsibility programs.

Roadmap

Product development. Brand development. Channel development. These are a few of our favorite things. While the brands, products, and ideas are the brainchild of the entrepreneur, we have spent a significant amount of time developing brand strategy, cultivating customers, driving product innovation, and building channels. We won’t tell you what color or shape your product should be, but we can help put a roadmap in place that supports the team and enables the business to thrive.

Planning

Some say that a business plan is worthless, but we say the act of planning is invaluable. No one expects you to have a crystal ball, but you can’t just raise capital or run a business without a well thought out financial plan. We work closely with entrepreneurs to help develop working models of their business along with metrics and dashboards for monitoring so they can put the pedal to the metal and go after market opportunities at warp speed.

Operations

As an entrepreneur, you have a lot on your plate.  Often there are key aspects of your business where you just don’t have the time or the expertise to get everything done. We understand, we’ve been there. And we can help. From better development and tracking of metrics to improved systems and processes, we work closely with our partner companies to raise the bar, develop a finely tuned machine, and be as capital efficient as possible.

Our Advisors

Consumer Ventures™ is honored to have the following as strategic advisors to our Firm and Fund:

Chris
McGowan

Chris is the general partner of CJM Ventures and is a Professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business where he teaches courses on entrepreneurship, venture capital, and private equity.  Chris was previously a Managing Director at Madison Dearborn Partners where he oversaw more than $2 billion of equity investments in the industrial, consumer, and energy sectors.

Michael
Schopin

Michael is a Parter at Zenfinity Capital, an investment firm started by Kevin Easler (the co-founder of Sprouts Farmers Market) to identify, finance, and develop the growth of promising better for your businesses in retail, food, and beverage.  Michael has been an investor for more than 15 years and has completed over 40 private transactions, working primarily with high net worth families.

Nick
Ferring

Nick is an executive at PLZ Aeroscience.  PLZ was founded in 1939 with the invention of Plastic Auto Glaze Polish.  An innovator in commercializing aerosol technology, PLZ is a leading manufacturer of specialty aerosol and liquid products. PLZ has thrived under multiple generations of Ferring leadership and produced over four billion cans of industrial and consumer products.

Todd
Hall

Todd spent over three decades in leadership positions at Cargill, recently retiring as the head of the Cargill’s global protein and salt businesses.  Todd was a member of the Cargill Board of Directors, oversaw some of Cargill’s largest acquisitions, and was a member of the Cargill Leadership Team, the executive group in charge of Cargill’s strategic direction, growth, and capital allocation.

With Jason, the 'partnership' element does not cease to exist post-close of the transaction. In fact, it grows stronger. Whether through weekly update calls or more active involvement, Jason lives and breathes his portfolio companies. Not surprising, he remains in close touch with many former portfolio company management teams -- they understand the value-add that Jason brought to their respective companies.

Matt Mullenax, Co-Founder and CEO, Huron

Our Experience

It has been our honor and pleasure to work with and for some fantastic companies and entrepreneurs throughout our careers. The following are some examples of our team's collective experience. The list below can be filtered by current Consumer Ventures partners vs. prior experiences. The list can also be filtered by industry.

Adgile Media Group

Current, Tech Enablement

Awakened Foods

Current, E-Com / DTC, Food / Bev, Shark Tank

Baboon to the Moon

Current, E-Com / DTC, Outdoor / Apparel

Baboon to the Moon Bags

Back to the Roots

Food / Bev, Prior

Betr Remedies

Current, E-Com / DTC, Health / Wellness

Betr Remedies

Boloco

Exits, Food / Bev, Prior, Retail

Boloco

Caraway

Current, E-Com / DTC, Home Goods

Cool Beans

Chicago / Midwest, Current, Food / Bev

Cool Beans 3 SKUs

CIRCA

E-Com / DTC, Exits, Prior, Retail

CIRCA / Portero

Criquet

E-Com / DTC, Outdoor / Apparel

Criquet

CurlMix

Chicago / Midwest, Crowdfunding, Current, E-Com / DTC, Personal Care, Shark Tank

Diono

E-Com / DTC, Kids, Prior

Diono

Fat Brain Toys

Chicago / Midwest, E-Com / DTC, Exits, Kids, Prior, Retail

Fat Brain Toys

Future Acres

Crowdfunding, Current, Tech Enablement

Huron

Current, E-Com / DTC, Personal Care

ICONIC Protein

Current, Food / Bev

KJUS

E-Com / DTC, Exits, Outdoor / Apparel, Prior, Retail

Koia

Current, Food / Bev

Luna Bay

Chicago / Midwest, Current, Food / Bev

Mavericks Snacks

Current, E-Com / DTC, Food / Bev, Kids

Mavericks Snacks

Murphy’s Naturals

Current, E-Com / DTC, Personal Care

O’My Foods

Current, Food / Bev

O'MY Vanilla

Pacha Soap

Chicago / Midwest, Current, E-Com / DTC, Personal Care

Pacas

Chicago / Midwest, Current, Outdoor / Apparel

Pacas Crew Socks

Peter Millar

E-Com / DTC, Exits, Outdoor / Apparel, Prior, Retail

Peter Millar

Pod Foods

Current, E-Com / DTC, Food / Bev, Tech Enablement

Pod Foods Founders

Poppilu

Chicago / Midwest, Crowdfunding, Current, E-Com / DTC, Food / Bev, Kids

Quinn Snacks

Exits, Food / Bev, Prior

Quinn

Quevos

Chicago / Midwest, Current, E-Com / DTC, Food / Bev, Shark Tank

Quevos Founders

Retail Aware

Chicago / Midwest, Current, Tech Enablement

RetailAware Founder

Rhythm Superfoods

Food / Bev, Prior

Rhythm Superfoods

Sacred Serve

Chicago / Midwest, Current, Food / Bev

Spinster Sisters

Crowdfunding, Current, E-Com / DTC, Personal Care

STANTT

Current, E-Com / DTC, Outdoor / Apparel, Retail

Tio Gazpacho

Exits, Food / Bev, Prior

Tio Gazpacho

Wild Friends Foods

Food / Bev, Prior, Shark Tank

Wild Friends Foods

Yishi Foods

Chicago / Midwest, Current, Food / Bev

Yishi Foods

Young King

Current, E-Com / DTC, Kids, Personal Care, Shark Tank

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Examples of Our Partners and Network

Contact Us

Please reach out to us with any questions, ideas, or opportunities. The best way to reach us is via email (see the bios above), we will do our best to respond as quickly as possible.

Address

625 W Adams 19th Floor
Chicago, IL 60661

Phone

(773) 527-6555

HOW TO CONNECT WITH US

If you would like to connect with Consumer Ventures, please reach out to us via email (in the bios above) or you may schedule time directly on our calendar via Calendly: https://calendly.com/jasonstarr/cv-intro

Please note, as part of scheduling time you will be asked to provide information about your venture for example:

– Name of Company
– Company Website
– Description of Company, Products, Channels, and Target Customers
– Approximate Revenue
– Capitalization (Past and Planned Financing)

We have an open door policy at Consumer Ventures and look forward to talking to you, but ask these questions just to ensure that a conversation is a good use of our time and yours.

Jason has been an invaluable addition as an investor in our company. He is always eager and willing to share his extensive experience and connections both operating and investing in our category. His input has had a major influence on our overall strategy and we look forward to continuing to partner with him as our company grows and evolves.

Matt Hornbuckle and Kirk Keel, Co-Founders and Co-CEOs, STANTT