Sold For $20 Million

Charles “Chuck” H. James III sold ProduceOn line.com, an online venture looking to streamline transactions between wholesale buyers and sellers of fresh produce, in less than a year after its launch. Like most start-ups, James’ business-to-business dotcom couldn’t secure adequate funding to prosper. But instead of waiting for more warning signs, James decided to sell.

Recently, the former be 100s CEO sold the seedling venture to Orlando, Florida-based World Commerce Online Inc., a global leader of b-to-b e-commerce sites for the perishable-products industries. ProduceOnline.com reaped a rich harvest from the sale-more than $20 million in WCO stock. Also, WCO assumed the start-up’s debt-roughly $1 million.

As part of the deal, WCO retains ProduceOnline.com’s management team and James will serve as a consultant for one year. Now, he is fielding offers from firms willing to provide capital for his next start-up or acquisition.

James is a fourth-generation produce entrepreneur who became CEO of Charleston, West Virginia-based C.H. James, the oldest black-owned family enterprise in the country. Since 1988, he grew the business from a produce wholesaler into an international produce distributor through California-based North American Produce, which served as a major supplier to the McDonald’s food chain. On the 1999 be industrial/ service100 list-the last year in which the company earned a berth on the list-C.H. James was ranked No. 78 with gross sales of $31.4 million. In 1999, facing increasing competition as a result of mergers, James decided to sell North American Produce to Salinas-based Taylor Farms, an industry monolith with greater capital reserves. (James still owns the Charleston, West Virginia operation, which grossed $10 million in 1999.)

ACROSS THE WEB