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VentureBeat earlier broke the news that RIM and other investors, including JLA ventures, have created a $150 million investment fund to back start-ups that work on the Blackberry.
Here’s a Q&A with Rick Segal (left), a partner at JLA Ventures, who will invest the fund. We corresponded today by email. The official announcement comes tomorrow.
VentureBeat: As discussed in our original piece, you say you’re device agnostic, and that unlike the iFund, it’s not specifically designed to target the Blackberry. The RIM people want to see it run on the Blackberry, but it doesn’t have to run exclusively on the Blackberry. Does RIM have veto on your investments, then?
Segal: As venture capital investors, we encourage companies to create products and services that reach the highest number of potential users across multiple platforms in order to maximize their opportunities for success. The applications and services the BlackBerry Partners Fund invests in will operate on the BlackBerry platform in addition to other mobile platforms. RIM has no veto or involvement in the selection of the companies we invest in. RBC Ventures and JLA, collectively make that call.
VentureBeat: Do you think RIM might be an acquirer of your investments down the line?
Segal: I can’t speculate on the possible exits of a future investment. We do the normal VC thing about hoping for multiple exit possibilities.
VentureBeat: Tell me about JLA Ventures. What is your experience in mobile? How many exits have you had in mobile? What are your most exciting investments in mobile so far?
Segal: JLA Ventures has been around since 1998 doing tech investments. Many of our companies have involvement in mobile applications and services. Quickplay media is a world leader in mobile in the delivery and management of mobile media. One recent example is the XM radio offering now available to Blackberry users. This service (http://www.xmradio.com/mobile/blackberry.xmc) is powered by Quickplay.
VentureBeat: Where specifically do you see the most potential right now?
Segal: I believe with the increased speed on networks, you will get applications and services that you wouldn’t have seen before. In other words, like Ebay being generally impossible to do without the internet, high speed mobile networks combined with powerful new devices, will offer people products and services that were impossible to do before. One obvious example would be massively multi-player online games. There are networked multi-player games on the devices today but I believe they have only scratched the surface of what is possible.
VentureBeat: Is there opportunity in mobile social networks, a sort of Facebook analog for mobile, or are you investing mainly in infrastructure at this point, i.e., platforms that support existing players, publishers, advertisers, go online?
Segal: The fund has a fairly broad mandate. For example: Mobile commerce (payments, advertising, retailing and consumer banking); Vertical and horizontal enterprise applications; Communications; Social Networking; Location-base services (navigation and mapping); Media and entertainment; Lifestyle and personal productivity.
VentureBeat: Did you go to RIM with the idea, or did they come to you?
Segal: The idea started with RBC Venture Partners and JLA Ventures as venture capital funds looking for additional areas of collaboration on various initiatives. The BB Partners Fund is one of many such initiatives. All parties, including the three lead limited partners, thought it was a great idea and signed on.
VentureBeat: When did you guys discuss this? In other words, did it come before the iFund or after?
Segal: I don’t know the exact timing, as JLA Ventures and RBC Venture Partners have been talking about various initiatives over the past year.
VentureBeat: Is this designed to boost the RIM ecosystem, or to maximize profits?
Segal: The Fund is designed to make successful investments that will maximize the returns for all of our limited partners.
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