The Download: Justin Wright-Eakes, Managing Partner, Oval Park Capital

Justin Wright-Eakes is the Founder and Managing Partner of Raleigh-based Oval Park Capital, where he oversees all investment-related activities including deal sourcing, screening, structuring, negotiation, execution, portfolio company support, and portfolio management. Justin began his career in New York City, where he held various investment banking, restructuring advisory, and hedge fund investment roles.

After several years of investing in and advising early-stage companies, Justin founded Oval Park Capital in early 2018 to formalize those activities. Oval Park initially operated as a fundless sponsor, sourcing and executing venture capital investments using special purpose vehicles, pooling capital from Justin’s network, and taking larger and more influential stakes in promising early-stage ventures. Oval Park raised its first committed venture capital fund in late 2020 and early 2021, securing $20.5M in commitments from limited partners.

To date, Justin has led investments in 18 portfolio companies, taking an active value-add approach and striving to be a transformational partner to portfolio company founders. Justin currently serves as a director on the boards of Archaius, Emrgy, FortifyData, Lemurian Labs, Medicom, OnTrack, Parmonic, Phinite, and Talli.

1. What is in your pockets?

My pockets are completely empty at the moment. Today is a work from home day, but when I leave the house I’ve got the pretty standard phone, keys, wallet and sometimes AirPods.

2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?

After moving back to North Carolina from New York in 2015, I observed a really interesting dynamic in the venture ecosystem where there were two pockets of really strong VC activity. The older VCs that focused on life sciences, biotech, med devices, and then the newer crop of VCs that are former software operators and executives mostly focused on B2B SaaS.

We’re focused on the space in between the two of those that we call non-FDA deep tech and hard tech. These are companies that are making real technological advances in science or engineering, addressing multibillion-dollar global problems, protectable and defensible, and have a really exceptional team.

We invest at the seed stage and we’re fairly agnostic when it comes to vertical or industry. But the common thread is really the fundamental building blocks of the business, making sure that it’s solving a real problem creating immense value.

We’ve got a couple big events that are on the horizon that we’ll be announcing. I’m excited about the continued performance of our portfolio in challenging circumstances. We’ve had a handful of companies go on to raise pretty sizable funding rounds from large VCs, we’ve had others that have signed major customers or have opened new manufacturing facilities. I would say, just to continue blocking and tackling in a very challenging environment is exciting.

3. What is your favorite coffee spot?

Jubala Coffee in North Hills or Sir Walter Coffee downtown (Raleigh).

4. What keeps you up at night?

There are two things. One are the things that are outside of our control, like fundraising market conditions. The fundraising market has been incredibly challenging for startups the last 12-18 months. And what really keeps me up at night is the possibility that some of our portfolio companies could do everything right, they could achieve every milestone they set out to achieve whether it’s financial, technological, operational, and still not be able to raise the money they need to continue operating. There’s that old adage that startups don’t fail; they just run out of money. And that’s particularly true in this environment.

The other one is just not having enough hours in the day. I’m being spread too thin to provide all the help and support that we want to provide to our portfolio companies. I think a tragic flaw of mine is trying to be everything to everyone. And the math just doesn’t work for VC funds to do that. And so, one of the focuses and one of the things I’m hopeful for, is that we’ll be able to continue growing the firm and expanding our team to be even more impactful and helpful to our founders.

5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?

I would say Brewery Bhavana, Crawford & Son, and Stanbury. For happy hour, Vita Vite in North Hills.

 6. What is next for you or your organization?

We’re currently raising an opportunity fund. This is like a follow-on or a best ideas fund with the goal of providing investment exposure to follow on funding rounds for our top performing companies or breakouts. We think this will end up being most interesting to investors that missed out on our first fund, but it solves a couple other problems for us as well in terms of decreasing future funding risk for our portfolio companies as well as giving our firm the ability to expand the team.

Beyond that, it’s a really difficult fundraising environment for both startups and for fund managers, so we are working round the clock with our portfolio companies and founders and trying to get points on the board.

We’ve got a handful of companies that are approaching exits, and I think the biggest differentiator for early-stage fund managers, whether you’re on Fund One or Two, is having actually distributed cash back to your investors. We’re thinking that by the end of this year, we will have had three or four exits and started distributing cash back to investors, which will be a really big milestone for our very young firm.

About Brooks Malone 105 Articles
Brooks Malone is a NC CPA and Partner with Hughes Pittman & Gupton, LLP, and leads the Technology practice group. Brooks is also listed contributor to the National Fast Trac Tech Curriculum that was funded by the Kauffman Foundation. Brooks was named one of the 40 Under 40 in May 2005 by the TBJ, received the Outstanding service to Entrepreneurs Award in 2008 by CED, and named to the Leadership Raleigh Hall of Fame in October 2011. Brooks is a graduate of North Carolina State University and is active at American Underground and Raleigh Founded.