A vision and belief

James M. Petras and James D. Ireland III had a belief. They believed in the Midwest — specifically in Ohio and its Northeast region. They believed in the potential of people, and had confidence that this region had plenty of budding entrepreneurs with creative and innovative ideas.

These beliefs guided them in their quest to help provide financial support to help emerging technology companies thrive in a region not known for such endeavors. This quest led them to found Early Stage Partners, and though the journey required perseverance to get there, it was fueled by their solid beliefs.

Petras and Ireland founded Capital One Partners, the parent company of Early Stage Partners, in 1993 with the goal to invest in early-stage and middle-market companies that needed significant strategic and financial attention in order to grow. Over time, they saw much more of a need in the early-stage companies, so they shifted their focus.

They recognized a business opportunity in forming a fund to provide venture capital to the underserved Northeast Ohio region. With help from a State of Ohio grant, the seed capital was formed for Early Stage Partners. The team began investing capital and made its first investments in 2001.

The economy challenged their efforts during the dot-com bust and the Sept. 11 attacks, prolonging the period they needed to raise sufficient capital to launch a credible venture fund. In spite of the obstacles, however, they received fund-raising period extensions several times, and the company emerged two years later as the largest early-stage fund of its type in Ohio.

No other group in recent years has been able to raise more than one-third of the amount they raised in the same region. Even more impressively, they raised the money during the technology and venture capital market downturn and in a region with little history of supporting such initiatives.

Their efforts prove that a little faith in people can go a long way toward improving an economy. As a result, more small companies in the Northeast Ohio region are growing and thriving.

How to reach: Early Stage Partners, (216) 781-5134 or www.esplp.com