Despite the soft economy, a venture capital firm is being formed locally targeting women-owned and minority-owned businesses in low-income areas a group long ignored by the VC community.

The firm, to be managed by a non-profit organization, is being started by Rhino Entertainment founder Richard Foos, who sold his record label to Time Warner several years ago.

Foos said he has been trying to find a way to give back to disadvantaged businesses through the use of venture capital. To do this, he came up with Southern California Community Ventures, the first community venture capital firm in the Los Angeles area.

Nationwide, there are more than 50 community venture funds in operation, said Kerwin Tesdell, president of the New York-based Community Development Venture Capital Alliance.

"People have seen the power of venture capital to form new companies, and I think it's because of an interest in applying a business-driven and finance-driven method to poverty alleviation," he said.

Under-served firms

Thirty-seven percent of private firms in Los Angeles County are women and minority-owned, yet they receive less than 2 percent of venture capital and private equity investments, according to data gathered by the new group, which has worked with the Milken Institute and the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance, or LARTA.

The organization plans to target federally designated empowerment and enterprise zones, like North San Fernando Valley and the Eastside.

The first fund is targeted to raise at least $10 million and then invest up to $1 million each in each company. Those businesses will span all industries and have between $1 million and $10 million in revenue and 10 to 100 employees, said Michael Frankel, managing director of the firm.

Frankel joined Foos with Alexis Kuta, a former PricewaterhouseCoopers executive. Frankel was formerly head of venture capital investments for the technology and media private equity investment group of Comcast Corp.

Non-profit to raise funds

Separate from the fund itself, the nonprofit expects to raise $5 million for general operations and business services, which it plans to offer to all invested businesses, Frankel said.

Foos already has invested in the organization, which is in the process of raising money both for its nonprofit management group and its fund.

Southern California Community Ventures is modeled after Silicon Valley Community Ventures, a three-year-old organization that has raised $26 million, including $10 million from CalPERS' California Initiative Program. The group has invested more than $2 million each in nine companies, said Lauren Sudeall, operations and marketing manager at Silicon Valley Community Ventures.

Investors in the Northern California counterpart include Wells Fargo, Silicon Valley Bank and other financial institutions.

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