Venture capital: Creating opportunity at the investment table

Jim Stallings founded PS27 Ventures to help empower Northeast Florida women, veterans and people of color.

Jim Stallings at the PS27 Ventures Female Founders Forum on March 3 at the University of North Florida Adam W. Herbert University Center.
Jim Stallings at the PS27 Ventures Female Founders Forum on March 3 at the University of North Florida Adam W. Herbert University Center.
Photo by Karen Brune Mathis
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Jim Stallings is the founder and CEO of PS27 Ventures, a Jacksonville-based firm he set up in February 2013 to invest seed funding and provide guidance to early stage technology companies in software as a service; health technology; financial technology; and e-commerce. 

Stallings, 67, believes that innovation is a core and necessary strategy. 

PS27 Ventures invests in companies it calls “innovators in their respective industries, driving dramatic market changes.” It manages the $20 million Rhea Fund venture capital fund set up in 2021 to invest in up to 30 companies.

Stallings’ experience includes more than 20 years with IBM and five years with the U.S. Marines. 

The Daily Record interviewed Stallings for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross. This is an edited version of the Feb. 27 broadcast.

What motivated you to set up PS27 Ventures?

Our mission is to invest in early stage companies, startups. I’m sure you’ve seen them in the program “Shark Tank.” We do that every week. We look for great ideas, great founders, innovative solutions, things that make money, and we invest in them and we give the founders an opportunity to learn from our team about leadership, operational excellence, financial management, and we coach them and hopefully exit through an acquisition or merging with another company, and our company and our investors hopefully make a profit.

PS27 stands for Psalm 27, and it’s from my time in the Marine Corps. We would read Psalm 27 before anything dangerous and it’s become a favorite of mine. Years ago, I said if I ever start a company, I’m going to name it PS27.

Your focus includes companies that are founded by women, by veterans and by people of color. Why is that focus necessary?

I’ve learned over 10 years of investing that many of those groups haven’t had an opportunity to be at the table to be considered for investment. Their background, training, job or where they grew up just didn’t afford them exposure to business and finance.

In many cases, they didn’t have the empowerment or the positive environment to feel like this is something they could do.

We outreach to those groups, we do a lot of training, education, motivation and empowerment.

If they have a great idea, we ask them to bring it to us first. Then we spend time with them, like we do with all of the companies.

It’s part of our mission and purpose to make sure our investment includes everyone, not just a group of tech inventors from the West Coast. 

Veterans, for example, when you leave the military, and I’ve had this experience, you just haven’t been exposed to business.

You have great leadership skills, you have a strong work ethic, you’re committed, you’re purpose-driven, you’re willing to work the hours, you just lacked the exposure and training.

What is the purpose of the forums you hold in Jacksonville?

We bring everybody together for one day in a big forum. On March 3, we had the Female Founders Forum for 350 women from the Southeast. What are the lessons they learned? What are the challenges they overcame? What is the success you can enjoy, once you incorporate some of those lessons? 

We’re going to have a Black Founders Forum on June 15. We’re going to showcase 20 or 30 outstanding startups from around the region to get them exposure and give them empowerment. 

In the fall, we will probably do an Adaptive Founders Forum for our disabled colleagues that may not have had the training, the exposure, the access. We’re going to give them access, classes and lessons around finance and marketing. 

You spent time in corporate America. What brought you to Jacksonville? What are some of the lessons you learned and that you taught?

I had a great career at the IBM company. I worked all over the world, I traveled to dozens of countries and I learned a lot about innovation and customer needs. 

I also found that the world needs innovative solutions. With the internet, you can sell anywhere, communicate anywhere. So I brought that into this entrepreneurial experience. 

I also brought with me this idea that it’s great leaders that make great companies. It’s not great companies that make you a great leader.

You have to have a sense of purpose and mission. You have to have a moral compass. You have to understand how to create a positive, strong culture that attracts people to it. That allows them to stay and feel like they belong in it. 

When they feel like they belong, they’ll give their best. When they feel like there’s a purpose, they’ll want to be a part of it. 

I learned that in corporate America and I learned at the Marine Corps and I’ve brought that to PS27. Start with your purpose and mission and build from there.

Why are you in Jacksonville?

I was here on an IBM assignment in the 1990s. IBM pulled me back to New York, and I decided, whenever I retire, I’m going to go back to Jacksonville. 

This city is on the move. It has all of the elements of a major technology center, not only in terms of skills and universities and interest, it has corporations headquartered here with enormous skills that can be available to these startups.

On top of that, it has a great quality of life. I love the outdoors. I like being out at the beach or on a golf course. That’s the right combination for building a great technological city that builds high-paying jobs, and it’s very attractive compared with some of the other markets in the world. 

I’m glad to be a part of this movement around entrepreneurship, and it’s what I’m committed to for the rest of my time.

Can you share an example of one of your investments?

We’re working with a fantastic company here in Jacksonville – Hazlnut – and they are now working on an invention that’s growing wildly. This is a voice-activated artificial intelligence solution that allows a customer to call in from anywhere to a restaurant. 

This bot basically acts like a human and takes the order and translates language and slang. And it suggests, it proposes, it calculates – it does everything humans will do. We found it actually does it better. In many cases, it has less errors. 

It frustrates people when they shop when the order is wrong or the price is wrong. 

It’s called HazlVoice. We think the world will know about it very soon.



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