BlackBerry Partners Fund Streamlines to Focus on Mobile

Posted: October 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

The BlackBerry Partners Fund is reorganizing its management structure to help it focus exclusively on mobile ventures.

The $150 million fund, which was previously co-managed by JLA Ventures and RBC Venture Partners, will now have a consolidated investment team based in Toronto and will open an office in Silicon Valley by early 2011. Since its founding in 2008, the fund has backed 12 start-ups including Xobni, Buzzd, Payfone and Pocketgear and has committed about one-third of its money.

Going forward, the team is preparing to raise another larger fund and is abandoning a previously announced China-focused fund in favor of a more broad international effort. In addition to a Silicon Valley office, the team is also looking at opening more offices overseas in Europe, Latin America and China. “We believe it’s a very large opportunity and mobile is going to be a phenomenally high-growth, transformative industry over the next decade,” said co-managing partner Kevin Talbot. “And innovation is taking place around the world.”

The move represents a doubling down on mobile, much like Kleiner Perkins doubled its original $100 iFund. Investors are seeing how dynamic this market is, especially as it evolves to incorporate the web, social media, commerce and the cloud. Smartphones in particular are becoming mainstream tools and are expected to be in the hands of half of U.S. consumers by the end of next year while tablets are on pace to hit almost 20 million units this year and are projected to reach 208 million units worldwide by 2014. Meanwhile, the market for mobile apps continues to explode with Apple and Google accounting for about 400,000 apps collectively.

JLA Ventures and RBC Venture Capital, the investment arm of Royal Bank of Canada, along with the BlackBerry Partners Fund will be managed by a new entity called ATP Capital Management, which will oversee all the different funds. Existing investments for the various funds will continue to be managed by the same teams but the combined structure will help ATP co-managing partners John Albright and Talbot focus on making mobile bets for the BlackBerry Partners Fund, which counts Research in Motion and Thomson Reuters among its limited partners. Though the fund is named after BlackBerry, its investments will be platform agnostic. Talbot said the fund will not focus simply on smartphones but will consider all connected devices, including tablets, cars and other machines.

“The Internet is mobile, it doesn’t matter what the connected device is, we think that’s where the world is going: mobile,” Talbot said.

It remains to be seen whether the new BlackBerry Partners Fund will meet with any better success by focusing exclusively on mobile. Most VC firms clearly see the potential in the market so there will still be plenty of competition to find the next great ideas in mobile, even with the fund’s singular focus. And on a lesser note, why keep the BlackBerry name if this is open to all platforms and devices? I don’t know if this will affect anything but it seems a little out of sync with the fund’s general mobile mission.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user sidewalk flying.


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