Spokane Journal of Business

Venture-capital company being established here

Commencement Bay fund seeks to raise $50 million, invest in 25-30 companies

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Two Spokane businessmen and a Seattle executive have formed a company here called Commencement Bay Partners LLC to manage a new venture-capital fund that aims to invest in technology companies in the Pacific Northwest or on the West Coast.

Commencement Bay hopes to build the fund up to $50 million and invest the money in 25 to 30 companies, says Chuck Watkins, of Spokane, who started Commencement Bay with Corey Brock, of Spokane, and Neil Beaton, of Seattle. The three men are the companys managing directors.

Watkins says the company expects to raise the entire $50 million in venture capital within the next four months, but declines to say how much money the company has raised so far.

The company already has tentative agreements to provide a total of between $4 million and $5 million in funding to four undisclosed companies.

In a memorandum to prospective investors, Commencement Bay says it plans to invest mostly in companies that develop or provide leading-edge or standard-setting technologies and services in the areas of information technology and other technology fields.

Watkins says Commencement Bay hopes to achieve a 25 percent-to-45 percent annual rate of return. Because companies in which it plans to invest typically will be start-ups, each investment is likely to be relatively long termthree years to five years. The hope is that many of the companies will become publicly traded within such a period.

Brock says, We hope to fund companies in Spokane, and we even hope to bring companies to Spokane.

He says, however, that Commencement Bay will be looking primarily to fund companies in other parts of the Pacific Northwest and along the West Coast. He notes that another venture-capital fund started here last fall, called Inland Northwest Technology Fund LLC, will concentrate on investing in start-up companies in the Inland Northwest. Consequently, Brock says, there likely wont be enough strong investment opportunities in the Inland Northwest to limit the Commencement Bay funds investments to this region.

The companys lead investor is former University of Washington and National Football League player Steve Emtman, who Watkins says is trying to get other current or former professional athletes to invest in Commencement Bay.

(Emtman) is getting us in front of a lot of his NFL contacts, Watkins says. The relationships he brings from professional sports are huge.

Emtman, a Cheney native and Commencement Bays first investor, is one of two people who have agreed to be on the companys executive advisory committee. The other is NavigantVacations.com President Todd R. Tarbert, of Seattle. Commencement Bay is looking to fill three more spots on what will be a five-person advisory board.

Commencement Bays founders will continue to work in their primary positions. Brock, 31, is a principal in a Spokane-based law firm called Brock, Carpenter & McGuire PS, and Watkins, 35, owns a golf-equipment and accessory retail store here called Henning Sports Inc. Beaton, 41, is a principal in Brueggeman & Johnson PC, a Seattle-based business-valuation and litigation-support consulting firm.

Brock and Beaton have worked either for or with venture-capital companies previously. Watkins has experience in sales and marketing and growing start-up companies.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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