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An investor group is using seed funding to clean up the Potomac River

The Potomac Piranhas (!) offer a new twist on impact investing — and on improving the health of the local watershed. The group is hosting a pitch event for green-minded entrepreneurs on Jan. 31.

A map of the Potomac River watershed, i.e. what Gore Bolton is trying to clean up. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In common usage, venture capital is early-stage investment and private equity is late-stage money for established businesses. Gore Bolton sees it a little differently and doesn’t know why only the VCs should get all the fun.
“PE can be the first check, too,” he said.

The Piranhas' logo.

The Potomac Piranhas logo.


Bolton, an engineer and investor, is behind the Potomac Piranhas, a nonprofit focused on a cleaner Potomac River watershed. Checkbooks in hand, the group is hoping to connect business and environmental communities in new ways.
In the fall, the group hosted a hackathon. On Saturday, Bolton is hosting a judged business demo pitch event at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Va., taking a page from ‘Shark Tank’-style tech startup events that have become ubiquitous in recent years.
Register for the pitch event
Bolton styles himself as something of a hands-on investor, pledging to “write checks and roll up his sleeves.” His plan is to better understand the #dctech community — we met at Foster.ly’s Collaborate — and connect it with a corporate community more familiar with later-stage companies and private equity.
That’s where the ‘piranhas’ from next week’s event come from — they are friends of his, entrepreneurs and consultants who happen to also be accredited investors.

The attendees of the Potomac Piranhas October 2014 hackathon. (Photo courtesy of Potomac Piranhas)


You might think the Piranhas branding pun is a little hokey — they’re the fresh-water (read: local) answer to the “capitalistic sharks” — but Bolton is making a point.
In the great investment shuffle of the last five years or so, where the cost of launching a business continues to drop, anyone who infuses capital into businesses and expects a return has to be thinking about their future. That’s why a corporate engineer like him is playing in the early-stage space. Meanwhile so-called impact investing has moved into areas that were once unfamiliar territory for return-minded capital, like education, healthcare and, yes, the environment.
Bolton said he wants his group to make seed investments. Where private equity is usually institutional money, the Pirahnas look something like an informal angel group, so he’s co-opting the phrase somewhat.
“We’re truly private private equity,” he said.

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