Finger Lakes Fund reports strong 2021 performance

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Despite the pandemic cloud that hung over the economy, Excell Partners had much to celebrate in 2021. Companies in its portfolio made big strides and its Finger Lakes Fund posted a banner year.

“It has only been three years since the inception of the Finger Lakes Fund and yet it is already showing strong performance with a 49.5 percent (internal rate of return) since inception,” says Theresa Mazzullo, CEO of Excell, a seed and early-stage venture fund that invests in high-tech startups and is an affiliate of the University of Rochester.

Excell invested $5.6 million in 10 deals, with top-tier venture capitalists and strategic partners injecting another $60 million into these businesses in the Rochester region.

“This fund is testimony to the strength of the innovation coming out of the Rochester/Finger Lakes region,” Mazzullo says. 

The $25 million Finger Lakes Fund was established in the fall of 2018 by then Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Managed by Excell Technology Partners, an offshoot of Excell, the fund was tasked with increasing access to capital for growing companies. It supports the region’s economic strengths in optics, imaging and photonics; food and agriculture; life science; and advanced manufacturing.

In its recent annual report, Excell also revealed results of its portfolio survey, which measures the fund’s economic impact. CEOs reported more than 623 new jobs across 38 companies, an increase of 40 percent from the prior year. These same companies have paid more than $48 million in payroll, plus another $38 million deployed for other services in the community. This multiplier effect demonstrates a strong return on investment for the Finger Lakes economy, the report states.

Several companies in Excell’s portfolio are in growth mode. Karma Culture, a Pittsford company, marked its best year in 2021, with more than $30 million in sales. Its Karma Water is a naturally enhanced, flavored water in a bottle that uses patented Karma Push Cap Technology to store key active ingredients at optimal potency until seconds before consumption.

Owl Autonomous Imaging raised $15 million in a Series A funding round led by State Farm Ventures with participation from Excell and others. Owl’s patented suite of thermal sensor technologies, computer vision algorithms and specialty optics aim to dramatically reduce both on-road automotive and off-road industrial and agricultural accidents to reduce fatalities and injuries, the company says. 

On the life sciences front, NeuroGenesis relocated from Israel to Rochester. It is developing a regenerative cell therapy for neurodegenerative diseases. NeuroGenesis recently closed a $10 million Series A round. 

Mazzullo also points to the Minority Women Owned Business Fund. She says it is Excell’s best-performing fund to date with two-thirds of companies making successful exits.

“We continue to see a very robust deal flow pipeline especially in medical technologies,” she says.

In terms of sectors, health care, industrial energy, and business and consumer products are the sectors with most growth in capital raised and jobs created. Follow-on funding in Excell portfolio companies, a key measure of success, totaled $568 million at the end of 2021, compared with $480 million in 2020.

“Excell has a dual mission to do well by doing good,” Mazzullo says. “We want to continue to raise capital in order to be able to invest in more promising startup companies that will grow and continue to create high-quality jobs in the Rochester/Finger Lakes region.”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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