BlackBerry fund backs three startups

The BlackBerry Partners Fund, launched earlier this year, announced its first investments.

The BlackBerry Partners Fund, launched earlier this year, announced its first investments in companies that support mobile commerce, help travelers and offer location-based entertainment information.

The fund, sponsored by BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, Thomson Reuters and Royal Bank of Canada, has US$150 million to invest in companies developing mobile applications and services primarily, but not exclusively, for BlackBerry devices, said Kevin Talbot, co-managing partner of the BlackBerry Partners Fund. The investments are a rare bright spot for startups in an otherwise gloomy economic environment.

WorldMate, a New Zealand company, got US$8 million from the BlackBerry fund, Motorola Ventures and AMC Communications to expand its operations. WorldMate offers a mobile travel application that alerts users when planes or trains are delayed or canceled. Users can find and book flights or hotels nearby based on location information. A free application is advertising- and affiliate-supported, and a subscription buys a gold package with more features.

WorldMate is already available for BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Palm OS phone users.

The Blackberry fund, along with a few other partners including Qualcomm Ventures, Greycroft Partners and Monitor Ventures, invested US$3.2 million in Buzzd, a location-sensitive entertainment service. Users can find and read user reviews about local events and venues. The service is already available through all the major U.S. operators, but the investment will fund further development of the client version, said John Albright, co-managing partner of the fund.

The third company the fund invested in is Digbee, a provider of a mobile commerce platform. Phone users can download the software that lets them buy from retailers featured in the Digbee mall. But retailers can also offer self-branded versions of the client for customized shopping. The client links to the phone's contacts list so users can choose an address from the list to send purchases to.

The BlackBerry fund and existing investors at Eyes of Texas partners awarded Digbee a US$5.5 million investment.

The companies met the criteria that the fund managers look for, said Talbot. "These four things, which frankly economic crisis or not are hallmarks of good venture investing, are things we consider," he said.

The BlackBerry Partners Fund is looking for companies that are appropriately valued and are cash-efficient. "We are insisting that companies be adequately capitalized, which means having enough capital to weather a prolonged situation in the economy," he said.

The fund also considers the end-user of the service or product to make sure that the target customer base is likely to remain strong.

Finally, the fund is making sure to invest with partners that have good funding. "We're being selective with our syndicate partners. We're seeking out high-quality investors that have the venture capital and that will be able to stay with our company in the long haul," Talbot said.

The criteria should be heartening to solid startups looking for funding, he said. "A good company will always get financed, regardless of what's happening in the economy," he said.

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