We talked with Rick Segal from the $150 million BlackBerry Partners Fund recently to go over the broad strokes of the venture capital initiative, as well as some of the finer points about the firm’s goals and their partners. Currently, they’re taking applications not just for BlackBerry developers started, but any mobile software projects. With the iPhone and iPod App Store in full tilt, this is a ripe opportunity for entrepreneurs to tap not only the lucrative BlackBerry scene, but all mobile platforms. Any developers out there who really want to catch the the Partners Fund’s eye should check out the competition they’re running at the BlackBerry Developer Conference in October, where winners will get upwards of $150,000 in investment prizes…
Take a listen to the full interview with Rick Segal from the BlackBerry Partners fund!
What the BlackBerry Partners Fund is all about
“It’s $150 million, the companies that we invest in are stage-agnostic, which means they can be napkins, they can be pre-IPOs, they can be anything in between. The range of the first round is typically somewhere from $500,000 to $3 or $4 million… The fund itself is co-managed by RBC Venture Partners and JLA Venture Partners…It’s a traditional venture fund, so it is not grants, it’s not like the Facebook allocations where guys walk in to a giant ATM, they get $250,000 and go off to do their thing. It’s not that at all. It’s one of the key messages that probably isn’t getting out there as well as I’d like it to.”
What the BlackBerry Partners Fund is expecting from developers
“Personally, I’m hopeful that some developers are going to take a giant step backwards, get in a nice easy chair, put their feet up and say ‘Okay, let’s pretend that we’ve got a blank sheet of paper, and let’s pretend that the device is going to have unlimited bandwidth, unlimited memory, and an amazing, functional keyboard, and be a functional device that people will just love and carry with them everywhere. Armed with that metaphor, what can you do in that world that you can’t do today?’
I make that comment because I’m fine with people coming in the door and bringing yet another location-based service, and yet another better way to do Facebook, and a better new social media “press-this-button-and-all-your-friends-will-know-where-you-are”, and all that other kind of stuff. That’s fine, we can look at those. What I’m really looking for is someone taking a step back and saying ‘Okay, before the internet, eBay was impossible.’ … You have all this infrastructure in there, you have all this high-speed, so now that you have that in place, tell me what you can do now that you couldn’t do before and really blue-sky it. … The real thing to do is, ‘Okay, what can I do that is coming?’ “
How the limited partners contribute to the BlackBerry Partners Fund
“The limited partners, RBC, which is first and foremost a bank, and it’s a big bank, and it’s a big financial services institution. There is incredible value for guys doing mobile applications to find out that their mobile applications don’t work in an enterprise environment… You also look at Thompson Reuters. Thompson Reuters is a huge, huge media conglomerate and services organization. So when you’re doing things, and your application is about rendering content, and looking at ways to deliver content and better ways to get feedback from people using your content, there isn’t any better player in the world than Thompson Reuters to start talking to about those applications and services.
You have Research in Motion which is a limited partner. Naturally, there’s a big wall that is up and says ‘You don’t get a vote’. They’re just a limited partner, so they’re not telling us what to invest in, what not to invest in, they’re independent and hands-off when it comes to that. That’s not to say we don’t pick up the phone and say to them ‘We’re looking at a company in this particular space, what do you think?’ … Then of course you have us, JLA, as a limited partner and also as a co-manager with RBC Tech Ventures. We’re just nice venture capital guys that know how that whole process works, we have lots of our own rolodex people, and we’ve got lots of experience, and we already have investments in things like QuickPlay and blog networks, so we’ve been around the block the block a little bit.”
On greed and venture capitalists
“You have to remember one very important thing about venture capital. At the end of the day, it’s all about the money. There shouldn’t be any misunderstanding. … If there is an amazing opportunity that was an amazing, game-changing thing for the mobile space, and it required lots of money. I would sit down [with the iFund] in a heartbeat. … Some of the mainstream press guys love to create controversy where none exists. Like, the iFund vs. the BlackBerry fund vs. the Facebook fund vs. the Starbucks fund vs. the MacDonalds fund. Surprise! All of the people that are doing this have everything in common: it’s called greed. I guarantee if go back and you take a look at what’s going on over at the iFund, you’ll find the dramatic, draconian, ‘you have to do it this way, it can only be for this, etc.’, all those requirements are gone. The reason those requirements are gone is because the guys running that fund are greedy, just like me. … I believe the right thing to do is to get super-good at what you do from solving a particular problem in the mobile space and get it out on as many platforms and to as many customers as possible. Naturally, we want and expect BlackBerry devices to be an integral part of that business plan, because it’s all about the money.”
For extra reading, be sure to check out Rick’s guest post at BerryReview.