A Sustainable Partnership: Cavallo Ventures, Connell and Checkerspot


Since Wilbur-Ellis’ venture capital arm Cavallo Ventures was established four years ago, it has invested in some 20 businesses. But as President and CEO Mike Wilbur pointed out during a recent WEpod discussion with Connell President and CEO Azita Owlia, their latest investment in California-based Checkerspot may have brought a first: the opportunity to co-create unique products.

Checkerspot employs microbial fermentation (‘feeding’ organisms to microbes to produce a new substance), on sustainable natural organisms – in this case, microalgae – to produce custom, commercially scalable, high-performance materials. For Connell, Mike and Azita saw an opportunity to put Checkerspot’s capabilities to use in the personal care market.

“What I’m really thrilled about is what we’re doing, and don’t believe we’ve done before, Azita and her group at Connell have signed a joint development agreement with one of our investment start-ups to make products unique to Connell,” said Mike. He said the collaboration will likely focus on skin and hair care.

This is not the first time that Cavallo has invested in microbial fermentation technology. Two years ago, Cavallo invested in another California-based company, Geltor, which produces animal- and GMO-free collagen. Today, Connell offers customers this unique biocompatible, sustainable ingredient to incorporate into their skincare products.

“At Connell, we aim to bring the best of the best to our customers and suppliers,” Azita started. “When we look at bringing new innovations to Asia, we focus on what will be relevant to local markets and we keep evolving as the needs of our customers change.”

Mike said that in addition to the many suppliers the company works with across business sectors, they are seeing “a lot of opportunities for new products and innovations from start-ups.

“Investing in a company like Checkerspot aligns with our goal of bringing the latest technologies to our customer base,” he added.

Looking ahead, Azita says the next steps in the partnership with Checkerspot include taking time to identify the specific sciences they would like to work with and starting to develop core blended products for the Asian market.

In reflecting on what has led to the success of Cavallo Ventures and Connell, Mike and Azita agree that it comes down to creating opportunities for collaboration, focusing on innovation, and understanding the needs and future direction of the markets. 

Hear more from Mike Wilbur and Azita Owlia in the latest WEpod podcast with Corporate Communications Director Katherine Fordon.