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Rather than start a traditional VC fund, in February five veterans of leading outdoor and athletic clothing brands created C21 Accelerator, a long-term residency in Hermosa Beach, Calif., for startups developing sustainable outdoor products that promote an active lifestyle. In addition to hands-on, personalized guidance from the C21 team, startups get $50,000 to $500,000 in equity investments, with totals and term sheets determined on a case-by-case basis.
“We’re really not interested in deals where we just throw money at somebody and come back six months or a year later and say, ‘How did you do?’” says Casey Sheahan, former CEO of Patagonia, noting that the C21 team has 120 collective years of experience in outdoor apparel. “We want to be directly involved in hatching these businesses.”
That means helping participants with product development, branding, marketing and logistics, and tapping C21’s extensive network of industry executives, designers, manufacturers, lawyers and publicists for additional advice and services. “It just depends on the needs of the company,” says C21 partner Alex Kehaya, a seasoned entrepreneurship instructor.
Roughly 100 early-stage startups from around the country have inquired about the program, according to Kehaya. By fall, C21 will have welcomed a handful of them to an open-ended residency at its 10,000-square-foot facility, which also houses sister company Concept 21, a 35-year-old brand consultancy led by Nike alum Brent James, a C21 founder. The incubator will continue accepting applications on a rolling basis.
Kehaya is quick to mention that outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate C21’s location a block from the beach. “You can see the ocean from the window and walk straight to surf,” he says. “We are promoting the lifestyle that we’re trying to build.”