Genusee Inc., a startup in Flint, Mich., that recycles plastic water bottles into stylish eyeglasses, has got the kind of angel funding most startups can only fantasize about, cashing checks from investors with a geographic range from Silicon Valley to New York City, from a co-founder of Tesla to a financial adviser to Barack Obama.
Investors say they like that the company is green; that it is a good-news story in a city known for bad, which makes it a perfect fit for those looking for social-impact investing; and that its founder, Ali Rose VanOverbeke, is a savvy CEO who has kept costs under control while bringing her product to a receptive market, with brand-name global retailers stocking her brand.
She said she surpassed her goal for a recently concluded seed round of funding and will soon start raising a Series A round of between $2 million and $5 million. She declined to say how much she raised in that seed round. She finished that seed round with an investment of an undisclosed amount from Invest Detroit in October.
"Ali Rose is an incredibly smart entrepreneur," said Robert Wolf, the founder of family-owned 32Advisors and a co-founder of 100K Ventures, a national group of high-profile investors that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into for-profit companies. He was an adviser to Obama when he was president and is on the board of directors of the Obama Foundation.
His family office has invested in Genusee and so have some of his partners in 100K Ventures, whose co-founders include Victor Cruz, a former Super Bowl champion who is now an analyst for ESPN; Draymond Green, a Flint native and former Michigan State University basketball player who has won three NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors; Soledad O'Brien, a national TV news anchor and producer; Michael Strahan, a former Super Bowl champion who is a host on Good Morning America; Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code; and Frank Thomas, a Hall of Fame baseball player.
"We look to invest in underserved communities that have very smart entrepreneurs but don't get a lot of attention from venture capitalists," Wolf said. The investment in Genusee, the size of which wasn't disclosed, was made this summer and was the second by 100K Ventures in a company housed in the Ferris Wheel Building. The first was last year in Kalm Clothing, a design and manufacturing company founded by Flint native Kiara Tyler.
"Making glasses from plastic water bottles was just such a smart idea, and she's creating jobs in Flint. It just checked every box for us," Wolf said.