Jim Petras has made a career out of supporting businesses and entrepreneurs. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a dual MA and MBA in 1978, he moved to Chicago to become a commercial lender for Continental Illinois Bank, one of the largest commercial banks in the country at the time. He made his way back to his native Northeast Ohio in 1980 as a member of Continental’s Cleveland Office and moved to Citicorp in 1982 where, with his team of over 100 east coast and Cleveland associates managed a loan and investment portfolio of over $1.24 billion. In 1988, Jim formed Wolfensohn Ventures, L.P., a $50 million investment fund. In 1992 Jim partnered with the late James (Jamie) Ireland III, who was among the original group of philanthropists who established the Fund for our Economic Future, to create the Cleveland-based private equity group, Capital One Partners LLC. Jim credits Jamie with encouraging him to become involved in philanthropy. “Jamie was one of the preeminent philanthropists in Northeast Ohio,” he said. “I’m following after him. Although not possible to fill his very large shoes, Jamie’s intellect, involvement and passion for Northeast Oho and its broad and deep foundation community represent the hallmarks for our continued involvement as well as our modest recognition of his considerable contributions over the years.”
In 2002, Jim and Jamie formed Early Stage Partners, L.P. (ESP), which exists to support the development of early-stage companies in Ohio and Michigan. Since its founding, ESP has invested $83.5 million in 36 companies, which have both generated returns for investors and created jobs in the region. ESP’s next step is to form its third fund, ESP III, which under Lynn-Ann Gries’ leadership will be the largest woman-run institutional venture fund between New York and Chicago. ESP III’s focus will continue to be identifying and funding the best teams and companies in the region, leveraging the seed capital activity of numerous ecosystem partners such as JumpStart and Flashstarts. “Supporting regional economic growth and entrepreneurial activity are Early Stage’s mantras,” Jim said.
ESP Charitable Ventures LLC, the charitable arm of ESP, became a voting member of the Fund in 2015. While there was already some historical connection to the Fund through Jamie and his family’s foundation, the Elizabeth Ring Mather and William Gwinn Mather Fund, ESP and the Fund are well aligned, Jim said. “I was looking at the Fund’s website, and the very first statement ‘We’re driving solutions that drive economic growth and access to opportunity’ is exactly what ESP does,” he said.
“We help form and build companies to drive economic growth for Northeast Ohio and increase access to opportunity through job growth.” ESP Charitable Ventures was created to double down on this work by ensuring that certain ESP investment proceeds would be recycled into the entrepreneurial ecosystem through charitable donations.
Outside of his work at ESP and with the Fund, Jim has been very active over the years in the Cleveland community. He currently sits on 10 boards, one of which is that of his former high school, St. Edward, in Lakewood. Most notably, he was the chairman of the board of the YMCA of Greater Cleveland. He has since retired from that board, but is still active with the finance committee.