Polis Builds Unusual, but Profitable, Financial Portfolio

Posted September 10, 2013 at 1:37pm

Rep. Jared Polis isn’t your typical congressional investor.

On the surface, the Colorado Democrat’s net worth of $68 million — with $17 million in real estate assets, $30 million in various corporate stock and mutual funds, and a $25 million-$50 million blind trust — looks rather common for a federal lawmaker. However, half of his real estate is in Japanese retirement housing, and most of his stock is in businesses such as an open-sea fish farm off the coast of Panama and a movie production company based in Denver.

And what’s missing from the venture capitalist’s portfolio also makes him stand out from his congressional peers. Polis does not have stock in companies such as Apple, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Ford or General Electric. His Roth IRA, usually one of a member’s largest assets, is worth less than his more than $700,000 holding in Techstars, a venture capital company that bills itself as the “#1 startup accelerator in the world.” Despite a somewhat riskier portfolio, his financial disclosure statements for 2012 show that he is among the top 10 richest members of Congress.

“Before being elected to Congress, Jared founded several startup companies, his investments reflect his previous career as an entrepreneur,” Polis assistant Danielle Oliveto told CQ Roll Call in an email.

Indeed, Polis is the only member of Congress to invest in the world’s first aquaculture venture capital firm. Aquacopia’s portfolio includes a Panamanian cobia farm, a Danish bluefin tuna producer operating in Spain and a Connecticut collaboration matching sustainable fishermen with buyers. These companies all attempt to provide a sustainable product to consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. Although Polis’ share of Aquacopia is valued at more than $2.8 million, he didn’t receive any income from the group in 2012.

Polis lists more than $700,000 worth of assets connected to Techstars’ various programs including its Boulder 2010 and 2011 groups. Techstars gives selected startup companies a $118,000 cash infusion, and three-month mentoring programs allow the new executives to learn from some of the founders and leaders of more established businesses, such as Birchbox, Warby Parker and Twitter.

Not all of Polis’ investments in startups are large; he has smaller stakes worth $1,000 to $15,000 in dozens of companies such as chauffeured car services Uber and OZOcar.

Polis also reported at least $900,000 in income last year on his $7 million investment in Asia Investment Partners, a group that focuses on health-care-related facilities such as Japanese retirement homes. He also has at least $6 million worth of assets in BridgeHealth Medical. The Denver-based organization attempts to reduce health care costs by providing consulting services and advice to individuals considering various surgical procedures through their health insurance companies.

While a lot of his investments are globally focused, Polis still invests in his hometown of Boulder. Along with a stake in his family’s business, he lists dozens of assets including Internet services, energy-related online games, food services and outdoor recreation companies.

Polis doesn’t invest just in startups; he’s also pushing his fellow members to do the same. In a recent op-ed in Roll Call, the Colorado Democrat pleaded for congressional support and promotion of startups. Polis teamed up with fellow Democrat Gary Peters of Michigan and Republicans Darrell Issa of California and Vern Buchanan of Florida to form the Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. (Issa and Buchanan are also among the wealthiest members of Congress.)

In his op-ed, Polis wrote, “As we struggle to regain our economic footing, now more than ever, we need American innovators and entrepreneurs to help drive our country — and our world — forward.”

He knows how successful startups can be, considering he founded an online branch of his family’s greeting card business and ProFlowers.com.

His family fortune wasn’t made until the dot-com era. Former physicist-turned-artist Stephen Schutz and his journalist-turned-poet wife Susan Polis Schutz started the Blue Mountain greeting card and poetry publisher in 1994, when their son Jared was a student at Princeton University. The younger Polis was executive director of the private company when it was sold to Excite@Home for $780 million at the height of the dot-com bubble in 1999. Two years later, Excite@Home sold it to American Greetings for $35 million — 4.5 percent of its original purchase price. This influx of cash helped launch Polis’ career in venture capitalism.

Members of Congress are required to disclose personal statements of wealth as regulated by the STOCK Act of 2012. Polis was a co-sponsor of the legislation and is still supportive of it. He said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call, “While the old disclosure laws provided a certain level of transparency, the new laws under the Stock Act provide more timely and complete information about the investments of members of Congress. The Stock Act was a major step forward.”