Research Foundation News

August 23, 2017

New investment firm designed to assist with innovation

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A local entrepreneur has formed a private investment partnership aimed at investing in small to mid-sized companies and helping those businesses grow.

Daryl Starr, chief executive officer at Little Engine Ventures, based in Lafayette, Indiana, said the goal of the firm is to find businesses that need entrepreneurial support and financing to develop.

“We’re blending other people’s talents with our talents,” Starr said. “If you were to compare us to another investment fund, I think we have some unique properties in terms of our structure and function. We are more like permanent capital because of our evergreen structure. This allows us to support businesses for a long, long time.”

Little Engine Ventures, whose name is both a nod toward the Purdue Boilermakers and the Little Engine That Could children’s story, has investments in 18 companies, ranging from being small minority shareholders in some, to owning controlling interests in others. Little Engine Ventures, which has a motto of “Think Big, Act Small,” looks to invest in companies that have $1 million to $25 million in revenue. The focus is on companies involved in agriculture, technology, finance and industrials.

“Generally, most of these businesses are what I would consider traditional, and we’re looking to bring some type of innovation that would improve margins and accelerate growth,” Starr said. “We’re trying to help those underappreciated companies move up the hill, up to the next level.”

Technology is a common theme for all the innovations within Little Engine Ventures, which generally invests in companies with other businesses as their customers, Starr said.

“It’s more about helping other businesses help their customers,” he said.

In 2015 Starr became an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Purdue Foundry after selling Advanced Ag Solutions, a company he founded in 2006 that specializes in data management technologies. He started Little Engine Ventures with chief technology officer Mikel Berger, who has worked with Starr for 10 years, and chief financial officer Neil Banwart.

The goal, Starr said, is to invest in businesses that continue to grow. He said the smallest business Little Engine Ventures invested in had $150 in revenue when it became involved last year and now it is generating $20,000 a month. He said the firm does not have a set number of businesses that it is seeking to invest.

“We primarily measure ourselves on our returns. So we want to keep our returns as high as we can for the risk,” he said. “We’re actively looking, so we’d like to add a couple more companies into the fold before the end of the year.”

Starr said his work as entrepreneur-in-residence at the Purdue Foundry mentoring scientists and engineers on how to formulate business models and business plans helped prepare him for this latest challenge.

“The exposure to all the different points of view and perspectives that the people at Purdue have has been super interesting and valuable. I learned a lot about different technologies and hopefully I helped some, too,” he said.

For more information about Little Engine Ventures, visit www.LEV.vc.

About Purdue Foundry

The Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship whose professionals help Purdue innovators create startups. Managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, the Purdue Foundry was named a top recipient at the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Program by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org.

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Tom Coyne, 765-588-1044, tjcoyne@prf.org

Source: Daryl Starr, 764-265-6767, daryl@lev.vc


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