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Ex-'Pegger seeks to grow local businesses

Gustavson picks early-stage firms

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Peter Gustavson is using cash he earned from Custom House to invest in promising firms, and has found some in Winnipeg.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Peter Gustavson is using cash he earned from Custom House to invest in promising firms, and has found some in Winnipeg. Photo Store

PETER Gustavson wants to be your friendly neighbourhood private equity/venture capital investor.

The former Winnipegger moved to Victoria, B.C., in the early '90s, started the Custom House currency-exchange business, expanded it around the world and then sold it to Western Union for $370 million in 2009.

He's now back in business as Gustavson Capital. Armed with his large stake from the sale of Custom House, he's looking to invest -- up to $5 million at a time -- in early-stage growth businesses.

Gustavson had a great experience with private equity partners in Custom House and he's looking to provide that same great experience for other young entrepreneurs.

Having grown up in Norwood and built a chartered accounting practice here (which was also sold) Gustavson has a particular affinity for the local brand of entrepreneurs who must survive in the famously thrifty Winnipeg business climate.

After only recently formalizing the private equity business, he's already invested in a couple of Winnipeg businesses that make up 50 per cent of his portfolio, which he said will be getting larger very soon.

"I've signed letters of intent and non-disclosure agreements on some other businesses," he said. "I'll be writing some cheques in the next short while."

But he's already pulled the trigger on a couple of businesses run by Glen Tinley, the former publisher of Winnipeg Women and Winnipeg Men magazines -- Blue Sky Digital Media Ltd. and Mexia Interactive Ltd.

Blue Sky is a LED digital-billboard company and Mexia Interactive is a digital-information company providing location-based analysis for clients such as retailers, airports and municipalities.

Both companies currently have about six employees each and are at early-stage revenue that needed the funding Gustavson Capital provided to be able to execute their business plan.

"We would not have done anything had Gustavson not come on board to help us out," Tinley said.

It's one thing for entrepreneurs to slowly grow a businesses reinvesting as they go. But Tinley's businesses are capital-intensive.

"I had nowhere near the capital needed to do these businesses," he said. "They sat as an idea in my head until I could find funding."

But it wasn't just funding he needed.

"I ran a small publishing company in Winnipeg but by no stretch of the imagination did I have the experience or depth of knowledge to launch and grow a business like Mexia," he said.

Gustavson is on the board of both Mexia and Blue Sky and his office of financial and business experts provides all sorts of support for Tinley.

It's not hard for Gustavson to imagine the kind of help Tinley and others like him need because he was once in the same position.

"There were guys in New York who would not even take my phone calls and then when the private equity investors (Boston-based Great Hill Partners LLC) became involved in Custom House, never mind taking my calls, those same guys were getting on planes and flying from New York to little old Victoria, B.C. to meet with me," Gustavson said. "They opened lots of doors and opportunities."

That's the kind of leverage he hopes Gustavson Capital will be able to provide the companies it is investing in.

"We spent a lifetime building relationships," Gustavson said. "I think we can help beyond just adding cash to a company's balance sheet."

Tinley said Blue Sky is finishing the permitting process to install four digital billboards in Winnipeg and hopes to have eight by the end of the year, the same number as its large competitor, Pattison Sign Group.

Mexia Interactive (Tinley is president of both companies) is gaining lots of traction with shopping malls, retailers and municipalities. By capturing Bluetooth or WiFi signals emitted from every mobile device through sensors Mexia will install, clients can accumulate data on the movements of people in their establishment and analyze it relative to sales and promotions and all sorts of service offerings.

Tinley is quick to point out it's impossible for the technology to garner any consumer information from the signal.

"It's 100 per cent technically impossible to get anything from the consumer," Tinley said. "It's privacy-certified vetted by privacy lawyers in Canada and the U.S."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 18, 2013 B6

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