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About CompanyFirst

CompanyFirst is an "Emerging Brand Accelerator" that invests in and works closely with passionate entrepreneurs to help them build great consumer-focused companies and brands.

Our Focus

We invest in consumer facing brands and companies in industries such as food & beverage, personal care, outdoor & apparel, juvenile products, and pet products.

Our Approach

We partner with entrepreneurs and work tirelessly to help them build a more valuable company. Fairly easy to say, but very difficult to do...and we love every minute of it.

About CompanyFirst

CompanyFirst is an "Emerging Brand Accelerator" that invests in and works closely with passionate entrepreneurs to help them build great consumer-focused companies and brands.

01 Priorities

Entrepreneurs and their businesses come first. Our top priority is to help great teams build more valuable companies. This is not about building our firm or feeding our egos...if we build great companies, the rest will take care of itself, including returns to our investors. This is why we named our firm CompanyFirst.

02 Humility

We are humbled by the myriad of amazing people and companies we have been fortunate to partner and work with. It is our privilege to have the opportunity to work with great entrepreneurs, and we are adamant that we must work diligently every day to continue to earn that right and their trust.

03 Integrity

The only way to treat people is with sincerity and integrity. No matter how much money or wealth one accumulates, we believe true worth is measured by your reputation and character. We commit to being open and honest, and expect others to do the same in return...in business and in life.

04 Focus

We focus on the exciting market of innovative, emerging consumer branded products and services. We invest in companies with high growth potential. We back passionate, inspired entrepreneurs with big ideas, a clear vision, and a plan for execution.

05 Strategy

We invest across multiple stages of growth, often starting with Series A rounds. We reinvest in success, i.e. continue to invest in the best companies in our portfolio across multiple rounds. We co-invest with great partners to bring the best resources to companies.

06 Value

We invest where we can add value. Our team is cross-functional and hands-on, with decades of experience spanning venture capital, private equity, strategy, and operations. We also have a strong network of advisors and industry experts that we draw upon.

Jason Starr

Managing Director

Jason has over two decades of experience spanning operations, technology, venture capital, and private equity. Jason is the founder of CompanyFirst, a venture capital firm focused on investing in and building emerging consumer brands and companies. Before CompanyFirst, Jason was the fund manager at CircleUp in San Francisco, through which he invested in dozens of consumer ventures. Prior to CircleUp, Jason spent over eight years at Winona Capital Management, a consumer-focused private equity firm in Chicago with over $300 million under management. Before Winona, Jason worked at venture capital firm Opus Capital in Silicon Valley and was a founder or early employee at several high-tech start-ups in Denver including BoldTech Systems, a “Deloitte Tech Fast 50” and “Inc. 500” company that was acquired by Perficient (NASDAQ PRFT). Prior to his entrepreneurial ventures, Jason spent over five years at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) where he was a project manager and software engineer. Jason graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business with an MBA and holds a BSBA and MAS from the University of Denver, where he was an alumni scholar and graduated summa cum laude.

Jason’s Midwest roots set the guiding principles at CompanyFirst, which can basically be summed up as treat others as you would want them to treat you. Fanatical about entrepreneurship, Jason relishes the opportunity to roll up his sleeves and help emerging companies…whether that includes thinking through strategic options, financial planning, improving operations, implementing technology, or just pounding the pavement at trade shows. Jason and his family live in the Chicago area where his free time is spent coaching a variety of youth sports and volunteering at the University of Chicago as a mentor, coach, and judge in their business plan competitions and start-up accelerator / incubator programs.

Jeff Brezek

Operating Partner

Jeff has over twenty years of sales and executive manufacturing experience with both public and privately held organizations including over 10 years of working with Private Equity sponsors. Before founding CompanyFirst, Jeff was President & CEO of Fort Dearborn Company (www.fortdearborn.com), a leading supplier of packaging and label solutions with 15 manufacturing facilities and 1,700 employees. Fort Dearborn works with many of the world’s most recognizable consumer companies and brands such as Unilever, Nestle, KraftHeinz, and Coke. Under Jeff’s leadership, Fort Dearborn grew significantly and expanded its capabilities through capital investment and strategic acquisitions, enabling the company to match its customers’ evolving needs, provide growth opportunities for employees, and maximize return to investors. Prior to becoming CEO, Jeff was Fort Dearborn’s Sr. Vice President of Sales. Before joining Fort Dearborn, Jeff spent 10 years with RR Donnelley. During his tenure with RR Donnelley (and its acquired entities Moore Wallace and Wallace Computer Services) he served in various sales and sales management roles of increasing responsibility.

Jeff received an MBA from DePaul University in Entrepreneurship and a BS in Marketing from Northern Illinois University. Passionate about building great businesses, Jeff embraces the opportunity to help emerging companies and brands navigate both the strategic and day-to-day challenges all businesses face. However, Jeff also understands the critical balance of providing value added support to management without compromising their unique ability to create value for their customers and support the people who deliver that value. Jeff and his family are from and currently reside in the Chicago area. In his free time, Jeff enjoys attending his kids’ sporting events, cooking, and traveling with his family.

Maya Menon

Associate

Maya joined CompanyFirst in 2020 as an Associate. Maya has over seven years of experience building innovative marketing strategies for venture-backed startups and consumer brands. Before joining CompanyFirst, Maya worked as the Social and Digital Marketing Manager for EVER, the beauty arm of social selling startup Stella & Dot. Prior to this, she worked at True North Brands, where she developed creative social media and influencer campaigns for a range of portfolio companies in the personal care space. She has also led digital marketing efforts at companies including UMA, a luxury skin care & wellness startup and Merle Norman Cosmetics, a retail beauty brand.

Maya is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley. In her free time, she enjoys discovering new workout classes, fostering dogs, and scouring the web for vintage finds.

CompanyFirst Alumni

Former Team Members

CompanyFirst is honored to have worked with so may great people, especially our former associates and colleagues that joined us through our relationship with Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center. Special shout out to our extended CompanyFirst family:

  • Mary Scarpulla
  • Brandon Hall
  • Kirsta Kellin
  • Matt Ramoundos
  • Elisabeth McKenna
  • Deanna Wiblitzhouser
  • Grant Kushner

Try not to become a person of success, but rather a person of value.

Albert Einstein

Our Approach

We partner with entrepreneurs and work tirelessly to help them build a more valuable company. Fairly easy to say, but very difficult to do...and we love every minute of it.

Our Focus

We focus on companies with $500k to $10 million in revenue.  We love working with passionate, inspired entrepreneurs with innovative, high-growth businesses.  We focus on industries where building a consumer brand is central to the strategy, for example:

  • Food & Beverage
  • Personal Care
  • Outdoor and Apparel
  • Juvenile Products
  • Pet Products

Growth Capital

Entrepreneurs sometimes believe they actually need less investment capital going into the business when things are going well.  Unfortunately, often the opposite is the reality, and many companies don’t realize until it’s too late and they have “grown broke”. Growing businesses must be properly capitalized to fuel growth, support working capital needs, and attack opportunities in the market. CompanyFirst invests capital across multiple rounds and stages to help support and fuel growth.

Development

Product development.  Brand development.  Channel development.  These are a few of our favorite things.  While the brands, products, and ideas are the brainchild of the entrepreneur, we have spent a significant amount of time developing brand strategy, cultivating customers, managing product development, and developing channels.  We won’t tell you what color or shape your product should be, but we can help put a roadmap in place that helps you step on the gas from an execution perspective.

Financial Planning

Some say that a business plan is worthless, but we say the act of planning is invaluable.  No one expects you to have a crystal ball, but you can’t just raise capital or run a business without a well thought out financial plan.  We work closely with entrepreneurs to help develop working models of their business along with metrics and dashboards for monitoring so they can put the pedal to the metal and go after market opportunities at warp speed.

Operations

As an entrepreneur, you have a lot on your plate.  Often there are key aspects of your business where you just don’t have the time or the expertise to get everything done.  We understand, we’ve been there.  And we can help.  From better development and tracking of metrics to improved systems and processes, we work closely with our partner companies to raise the bar, develop a finely tuned machine, and be as capital efficient as possible.

Technology

Technology can make or break a company.  You can run a company on spreadsheets and a makeshift website, or you can put the right technology in place and leverage it to propel your business forward.  We don’t believe you need to break the bank to do things right, but you need to, well…do things right.  It’s not just our opinion, we’ve got lots of battle scars and can help our partner companies avoid a lot of pain…and more importantly fuel growth and drive value.

Our Advisors

CompanyFirst is honored to have the following as strategic advisors to our Firm and Fund:

Chris
McGowan

Chris is the general partner of CJM Ventures and is a Professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business where he teaches courses on entrepreneurship, venture capital, and private equity.  Chris was previously a Managing Director at Madison Dearborn Partners where he oversaw more than $2 billion of equity investments in the industrial, consumer, and energy sectors.

Michael
Schopin

Michael is a Parter at Zenfinity Capital, an investment firm started by Kevin Easler (the co-founder of Sprouts Farmers Market) to identify, finance, and develop the growth of promising better for your businesses in retail, food, and beverage.  Michael has been an investor for more than 15 years and has completed over 40 private transactions, working primarily with high net worth families.

Nick
Ferring

Nick is an executive at PLZ Aeroscience.  PLZ was founded in 1939 with the invention of Plastic Auto Glaze Polish.  An innovator in commercializing aerosol technology, PLZ is a leading manufacturer of specialty aerosol and liquid products. PLZ has thrived under multiple generations of Ferring leadership and produced over four billion cans of industrial and consumer products.

Todd
Hall

Todd spent over three decades in leadership positions at Cargill, recently retiring as the head of the Cargill’s global protein and salt businesses.  Todd was a member of the Cargill Board of Directors, oversaw some of Cargill’s largest acquisitions, and was a member of the Cargill Leadership Team, the executive group in charge of Cargill’s strategic direction, growth, and capital allocation.

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.

Warren Buffett

Our Experience

It has been our honor and pleasure to work with and for some fantastic companies and entrepreneurs throughout our careers. The following are some examples of our team's collective experience. The list below can be filtered by current CompanyFirst partners vs. prior experiences. The list can also be filtered by industry.

Back to the Roots

Food / Bev, Prior

Boloco

Food / Bev, Prior, Retail

Boloco

Caraway

Current, E-Commerce, Housewares

CIRCA

E-Commerce, Prior, Retail

CIRCA / Portero

Criquet

E-Commerce, Outdoor / Apparel

Criquet

Diono

E-Commerce, Juvenile, Prior

Diono

Fat Brain Toys

E-Commerce, Juvenile, Prior, Retail

Fat Brain Toys

ICONIC Protein

Current, Food / Bev

KJUS

E-Commerce, Outdoor / Apparel, Prior, Retail

LXMI

E-Commerce, Personal Care, Prior

LXMI Jar

Murphy’s Naturals

Current, E-Commerce, Personal Care

Peter Millar

E-Commerce, Outdoor / Apparel, Prior, Retail

Peter Millar

Quinn Snacks

Food / Bev, Prior

Quinn

Rhythm Superfoods

Food / Bev, Prior

Rhythm Superfoods

Sacred Serve

Current, Food / Bev

STANTT

Current, E-Commerce, Outdoor / Apparel, Retail

Tio Gazpacho

Food / Bev, Prior

Tio Gazpacho

Wild Friends Foods

Food / Bev, Prior

Wild Friends Foods
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Examples of Our Partners and Network

Contact Us

Please reach out to us with any questions, ideas, or opportunities. The best way to reach us is via email, we will do our best to respond as quickly as possible.

Address

625 W Adams 19th Floor
Chicago, IL 60661

Phone

(773) 527-6555

Email

Hello@CompanyFirst.com

    Note: We are currently receiving a significant amount of SPAM through this contact form. If you would like to present an opportunity to CompanyFirst, you may also submit a meeting request at calendly.com/jasonstarr/companyfirst-intro.

    Chase the vision, not the money.  The money will end up following you.

    Tony Hsieh