Natural Foods Merchandiser

40 Under 40: Michael Burgmaier

Michael Burgmaier
CEI Community Ventures
General partner
Clear Venture Partners
Portland, Maine
Age: 38

In an industry full of passionate people, fresh ideas and high ideals, Michael Burgmaier adds the practical, take-the-bull-by-the-horns attitude that companies require to launch them from the great-idea phase to the nationwide-success phase.

While attending the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Burgmaier worked on a small soy-food startup, Vermont Soy. After receiving his master of public policy degree from Duke University, he became a strategy-management consultant at Bain & Co. in Boston. But he soon concluded that he enjoyed working with smaller, entrepreneurially based companies, where he could play a role in every part of the business. And he and his wife realized something else, too: "[We] decided that it was time to leave the 80-hour weeks of Fortune 500 consulting and do something that better fits who we are." They moved to Maine, and Burgmaier joined Portland-based venture-capital firm CEI Community Ventures in 2004. The fund is now fully invested. Burgmaier and his partner, Michael Gurau, also started a new investment company, Clear Venture Partners, to target investment opportunities in the healthy-living sector.

What was your inspiration when you were starting out? My inspiration was to bring brands and products to the naturals market that were great brands and great products. I've been a longtime consumer in the naturals space—I live and breathe the industry, and the more I can do to be an active part of it and help it mature, the happier I am.

What's ahead for you? With Clear Venture Partners, we aim to continue being a trusted, go-to capital source for early- and development-stage companies in the healthy-living space. I plan to be actively investing in this space for a very long time.

What are you most proud of? I am most proud of the work we did in creating the brand "The Rustic Crust." When we first approached the company in early 2005, we recognized a great product that could fill a void in the market, but the complete lack of a brand. We started with just the product and worked from the ground up to create the brand. In the first year, the product went from No. 7 to No. 1 in its category, while growing the category itself by close to 50 percent. This was the first investment our fund made in this space, and it quickly led to three other deals in the next year.

What do you enjoy most? Hands down, I enjoy spending time with my kids—coaching baseball, skiing, reading books at night. With work, I get the most out of the creative and strategic "breakthrough" moments, when you work hard with management to redefine strategy, create a new product line, transform the business model of a company. And then when you are in the checkout line of Whole Foods and the person in front of you has your product in their basket, you start to feel satisfaction for a job well-done.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 8/p. 18

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