In 2000, Cairn Cross and some fellow skiers founded Fresh Tracks Capital in Shelburne. The name of the venture capital firm, which focuses on investing in under-served markets in Vermont and neighboring states, was based on their mutual love of skiing, but Cross has since discovered that the name resonates with other outdoor enthusiasts as well.
A hunter recently told him that the term conjures up visions of deer tracks in the fresh snow, so Cross is happy those beyond the skiing community appreciate it.
Skiing, however, has been part of Fresh Tracks Capital’s business model in other ways. Fourteen years ago, the company started an event called Peak Pitch, which invited entrepreneurs to pitch a business idea on a chairlift.
For years, people asked if there was a summer alternative, and Cross and his fellow managing directors kicked around ideas including golf, but dismissed them as insufficiently creative. A motorcyclist in his spare time, Cross decided that instead of having the entrepreneurs gather in one place, a group of investors on motorcycles would ride to find them and thus, Road Pitch was born.
This summer marked the fourth year for Road Pitch as 62 riders traveled to 10 towns and listened to 46 pitches.
“The connections and camaraderie and networking is fascinating,” Cross said. “The sheer amount of enthusiasm it has created is great to watch.”
The winners from each town will make their pitch Oct. 19 at Champlain College. Last year there were 250 spectators, and Cross expects even more this year, including 25 students from Burr and Burton Academy’s entrepreneurial club and several Champlain College students, for whom attendance is part of their curriculum.
Cross explained that venture capital groups create funds with a defined life span. The funds are a pool of committed capital for which they solicit investors. Fresh Tracks Capital is on its fourth fund, each of which generally lasts about 12 years. The funds invest in local businesses that are not publicly traded.
Usually one of the general partners joins the board of the firms in which the company invests. Cross serves on the boards of Vermont Teddy Bear, NativeEnergy, Farady, Mamava, and Budnitz Bicycles. He is also on the board of directors of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
In 2011, the United States Small Business Administration named Cross its Vermont, New England, and national Financial Services Champion. He passes on his knowledge by teaching a class on alternative finance in the Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the University of Vermont.
“I’ve had a lot of fun with that program,” he said. “Many students are Vermonters who are coming back home. They are eager to get to work in the Vermont economy.”
Cross is passionate about the Vermont economy. “Our tagline is: Building Exceptional Vermont Businesses,” he said. “I personally feel really lucky that I get to work with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies. I get to talk to people who are interested in that kind of thing but can’t figure out a way to do it. We won’t solve our problems unless we build great companies.”