COLUMBIA, S.C. – Looking for a sign to gauge how starved for cash technology start-ups are these days? Check out Trelys Venture Partners, a new venture capital firm that has just begun closing on its first fund.

“We’ve already received more than 200 business plans,” says Adrian Wilson, Trelys’ general partner and fund manager. “They started coming in after we announced our formation. I’m sure that we’ll be inundated now that we’ve actually got some money to invest.”

Wilson won’t say how much money Trelys has in hand, except to note that the firm is “on target” to meet its stated goal of $25 million and that its “stretch goal” of rounding up $40 million is “within reach by the end of the year.” He expects a secondary closing by early summer.

Among the institutional investors Trelys has attracted are a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of South Carolina, foundations linked to Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina and banks including BB&T, First Citizens and Carolina First.

“People say it’s not a good time to raise money, but maybe since we’re out of the way in South Carolina, we found more interest in what we’re doing,” Wilson says.

Putting South Carolina more in the path of venture investments is the primary hurdle Trelys now faces. According to the MoneyTree Survey compiled by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the National Venture Capital Association and the Venture Economics research firm, only six venture deals, totaling $95 million, were done in the state through the first nine months of 2001, compared with $413 million and $668 million invested respectively in neighbors North Carolina and Georgia during the same period.

Wilson says Trelys is poised to make its first investment in an unidentified South Carolina-based telecommunications firm that is completing a funding round but held up its closing so the new firm would have a chance to participate.

“We’re looking to lead deals in this state and hopefully show other (venture capital) investors that there are good ideas here,” says Wilson. A former finance lawyer with Carolina Power & Light, he led a small investment firm in Florence, S.C., before co-founding Trelys last year with former software executive Larry Wilson, no relation.
The firm also plans to invest regularly in deals elsewhere in the Southeast, preferring to take part in middle rounds where companies have a product that is producing revenue but need some extra capital to expand their manufacturing or sales capabilities to reach the next level, he says.