Stephen Ippolito

The Seed Lab is sprouting.

The early-stage venture fund has brought on Stephen Ippolito, former president of Bandier, as a senior partner.

That adds some additional start-up savvy to senior partners Jesse Cole and George Hornig and advisory board member Dany Levy as they help small businesses set down roots.

Seed Lab has taken stakes in beverage brand Dirty Lemon and collapsible drink company Stojo, among others, and is looking for additional brands that might need some entrepreneurial support.

Ippolito played a key role in the development of Bandier, which recently took investment from Eurazeo Brands, while Levy founded Daily Candy and Cole was chief executive officer and chairman of Haute Hippie. The idea is to use those diverse backgrounds — and some cash — to help supercharge promising companies. Hornig brings big-time experience in finance, including at Deutsche Bank Americas and Credit Suisse Asset Management.

“I joined them about a month ago and really saw a huge potential with having Jesse, George and Dany involved in basically an attack of the VC market,” Ippolito said.

Venture capital companies are often criticized for placing bets on many companies, hoping that one will pay off and get sold for a big multiple and cover losses elsewhere. That shotgun approach can zero-in on the hot trends in the market and produce wins, but it can also leave many businesses with big valuations and even bigger expectations.

“Somebody needs to be building and make a better path for these small businesses,” Ippolito said, noting Seed Lab is looking to deploy $75,000 to $1.5 million in capital to companies and then help them find their way forward.

Ippolito described the Seed Lab approach as more “entrepreneurial-led investing.”

“When we’re aligning ourselves with them, we’re really going to be with them for the entire game, not just the beginning,” he said.

One area that Ippolito has his sights on is a format that fell out of favor and might now be coming back.

“I’m a huge fan of retail,” he said. “Gen Z is very into retail. People didn’t innovate in retail for a long time. The store and the brand aren’t enough — you need service, experience.”

For now, there seems to be enough options in the market for Seed Lab to work its approach.

“There’s a lot of deal flow out there,” Cole said. “A lot of bigger companies are leaning into the small entrepreneurial groups to really ramp up the R&D for their business. You’re going to see companies start up in every single category and the ones that are a little bit more evolved in terms of direct business, marketing, those businesses are going to get a much closer look.”

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