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Health | Fitness

Once a broke surfer, this San Diego entrepreneur built dream life on an $800 investment

Incubate Ventures
Jeran Fraser, the co-founder of the startup Stact, poses for a portrait at Incubate Ventures, a coworking space he also founded.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jeran Fraser sold a worthless piece of land in Arizona when he was 21. Now he’s living every entrepreneur’s dream

It’s easy to think those with wealth come by it easily, through family inheritance or windfalls of luck and fortune. But that’s often not what happens. Sometimes, people grasp an opportunity and wrestle their way to wealth.

Jeran Fraser, 41, is the wrestling sort. Today, he’s living a life many would envy: startup investor, real estate investor and serial entrepreneur. He even owns a gold mine. A literal gold mine, not a figurative one.

But he started with a piece of scraggly land worth $800 — less valuable than your iPhone.

Today, he lives and works in Carlsbad, where he owns a coworking space called Incubate Ventures. Here, entrepreneurs mill about drinking kombucha and tapping on laptops. About 17 startups work here, a few of which Fraser has backed.

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Incubate is an eclectic coworking space with a palpable SoCal vibe. A giant copper chandelier dangles from high ceilings. There’s a Back to the Future-style DeLorean parked in the middle of the office space, flanked by cushy couches and desks. One corner of the building is the former recording studio of Blink-182, which — for some odd reason — is equipped with a fire station pole for quickly exiting a sleeping loft above.

Fraser founded this space in 2017, and he spends his days keeping it running. He picks up bagels on Tuesdays. He manages the HVAC repairs. But mostly, Fraser works on his other businesses. And he has many.

Besides owning and operating Incubate Ventures, Fraser is also the founder of a sports tech startup called Stact. He’s brokering the sale of his mining company (the gold operation), and happily living off the proceeds of his last real estate exit.

This is how Fraser makes his bread and butter. He moves from project to project, buying, building, selling. He lives comfortably with his wife and kids in North County, and has a freedom about his days that many people pine for.

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Incubate Ventures
Incubate Ventures, a coworking space, features a Delorean parked inside the space on July 30, 2019 in Carlsbad, California.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Family gifts, though small, seed an entrepreneurial life

Fraser is not the kind of SoCal entrepreneur who got his start from a trust fund, but he did gain a start from family. He went to high school in Temecula and was raised by a single mother who immigrated to the U.S. from South Africa. As children, Fraser and his sister would spend long stretches in South Africa with extended family members.

“My mom bounced around a bit to make sure we had a roof over our head,” Fraser said. “I went to 11 different schools from kindergarten to my senior year.”

Fraser got scholarships and financial aid to pay for college, then worked a variety of odd jobs to pay the bills. An avid surfer, he taught tourists and children to surf during the day and waited tables at night.

But on his 21st birthday, Fraser got a surprise gift. His South African grandfather, who traded rare gemstones during the post-war era, had several random assets to his name.

“Sapphires, rubies and amethysts had a lot more value back then,” Fraser said. “He traded them for everything: a boat at the Marriott; an eight-plex unit in Chula Vista. Random things.”

Grandpa’s gift to Fraser? The deed to a small (quarter-acre) piece of land in Taos, New Mexico. Unlike the current land prices in San Diego today, this piece of property was virtually worthless in the 1990s. But it was a start.

Back in the 1990s, eBay was just getting started and many people didn’t even know the site existed. But Fraser was a bit of a tech nerd and was well-versed in the e-commerce site. He used HTML to dress up an eBay ad, then listed the property for $800. It sold — and Fraser felt like a king. Suddenly a thought occurred to him: could he buy cheap property at Arizona auctions and sell it on eBay for a living?

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With only $800 in the bank, he needed a bit more cash. He asked his mom and sister for $500 each, promising them that he could generate a good return on their investment. About a month later, he went to an auction in Arizona with $1,800 in his pockets. He bought few parcels of land and then sold them for $6,000 to $8,000, Fraser said, generating a hefty return.

He was in business.

Incubate Ventures
Jeran Fraser is the founder of Incubate Ventures in Carlsbad.
(Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

For the love of building

Fraser capitalized on the newness of the Internet and the ripe real estate market. For the next decade, he bought tens of thousands of parcels and sold them off for profit. When the real estate market crashed in 2008 and 2009, Fraser went on to other industries. He dabbled in various fields, from solar and clean energy projects to mining. He tried his hand at startup investing. Somethings worked out, and some ended in failure. He had a geothermal project that foreclosed in 2006.

Michael Jegat, Fraser’s business partner at Stact, said it’s this willingness to throw himself into new projects that he finds admirable.

“Some people have tons of ideas, but they never do anything about them,” Jegat said. “As soon as he gets an idea, he goes for it. Nothing can stop him.”

Michael Witz, a board member and investor in one of Fraser’s companies, said he’d witnessed this relentlessness firsthand, watching Fraser and Jegat try to launch a new startup together.

“It’s even made me question certain things about myself as an entrepreneur,” Witz said. “Would I have given up a long time ago? Most people’s instinct is to quit when things get hard.”

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The life of an entrepreneur is rarely stable. Fraser has failures littering his past, and likely faces defeat ahead (in one venture or another). Jegat said Fraser keeps starting new projects because he loves the process, not the prize.

“He likes the risk and the challenge,” Jegat said. “He just likes building things, and he’s not scared of trying.”


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