Ag-focused PE vet joins Vermont impact investor

Skip Wyer tells Agri Investor that that he joined Vermont Works to develop a $50m fund offering 20 percent annual returns through investments in the state’s entrepreneurs, including many agricultural producers focused on sustainability.

Vermont Works Management Company, a Burlington, Vermont headquartered alternative investment firm, announced this week it has hired former Varde Partners portfolio manager Skip Wyer as a partner.

Wyer told Agri Investor that he joined the firm to concentrate on the agricultural component of Vermont Works’ efforts to pursue investments designed to promote economic development and job creation in Vermont. Those investments will come from a $50 million social impact fund the firm is currently raising, with help from impact-focused placement agent Big Path Capital, according to Wyer.

“Vermont is a very entrepreneurial state but, not being on the East Coast or the West Coast, it doesn’t see a lot of investment dollars from outside the state,” Wyer said. “You really can’t think about investing, or being involved with the economy in Vermont, unless you deal with food and agriculture.”

Wyer joins Vermont Works after eight years as an agriculture-focused independent sponsor through a Minnesota-headquartered firm he founded called Linea Capital. Wyer said that through Linea he works together with commercial banks, private lenders and investment firms on a deal-by-deal basis that has included investments in cage-free eggs, biomass and mitigating climate risks in agriculture. Previously, Wyer spent five years as a portfolio manager at Varde Partners and five years as an entrepreneur in residence at Cargill, according to his LinkedIn profile,

Wyer, who plans to split his time between Vermont and his current base in Minnesota where he will continue to pursue investments through Linea, said that Vermont Works is targeting foundations for commitments to the social impact fund, which will offer 20 percent annual returns.

“The objective that we are working towards is that 10 percent of the capital come from investors within the state of Vermont and 90 percent will come from outside of the state,” Wyer said. “We’ve got a target-rich environment that investment funds have ignored.”

Vermont is well-positioned to participate in the growing push towards sustainable agriculture, according to Wyer, who said that he will look to pursue investments in Vermont’s existing agricultural producers and growth-stage companies. Key subsectors, he said, are likely to include grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs and organic farming. Agricultural technologies, especially those focused on enhancing traceability in the food supply chain, will also be a focus of Vermont Work’s agricultural investments, according to Wyer.

“We believe that a lot of what we are doing in Vermont will eventually be exported and we will broaden our investment mandate over time, probably in the form of a different fund,” he said.

Wyer said that Vermont Works is close to securing USDA approval for a Rural Business Investment Company  license from USDA, which will allow the firm to raise up to a quarter of the social impact fund’s $50 million target from the Farm Credit System banks. Once the license is approved, Wyer said, Vermont Works hopes to use such capital as the basis for a separate, more agriculture-focused, investment vehicle.

“They [USDA] are encouraging us to think more broadly than just a Vermont focus,” he said.