For the past five years, Enrique Allen and Ben Blumenfeld have led a group of angel investors called the Designer Fund on a mission: fund tech startups that have a strong design focus and a meaningful impact. Until today, it was a loosely knit group with no formal structure, but now it’s become an investment firm with $20 million to put into early-stage startups.
The fund will continue to make seed investments between $100,000 and $1 million in companies that are “fundamentally improving the user experience in industries such as financial services, digital health, education, and enterprise tools.”
According to Allen, the original fundraising target was much lower, but it increased due to demand. “We chose a fund size that enables us to provide a better experience to entrepreneurs,” he told VentureBeat. “Rather than rallying say, five angels who each invest $50,000 like we did in the past, now we simplify the process and invest an average initial investment of $250,000 through our fund. Raising our fund also allows us to continue investing in companies as they grow, whereas angels typically don’t. We want to invest an amount that’s meaningful to entrepreneurs at the early stages and aligns us as long-term design partners.”
Central to the firm’s investments is how important design is within the startup’s culture. Allen said that if a designer is one of the founders, there’s a good chance that better products and services can be created, because engineers and business executives will be more exposed to the creative process and understand the user experience. Part of Designer Fund’s mission is also to help designers become entrepreneurs by opening up opportunities for capital, education, and community.
“With design as a core in-house competency, these companies can produce design innovation in a more sustainable way, rather than outsourcing it,” Allen said. “We think companies that do this are more likely to attract talented designers, build products that address real needs through a human-centered process, speed up iteration cycles, and maintain a differentiated brand in an increasingly noisy and competitive market.”
Much of this falls in line with what John Maeda, the design partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer, wrote in his Design In Tech report earlier this year. In it, he predicted the rise of designers who have gained valuable boardroom experience and those who establish institutional funds, such as Designer Fund.
But Allen and Blumenfeld’s firm says it’s providing more than just money. It also includes an educational offering that gives startups in its portfolio access to professional development programs. Called Bridge, it pairs founders with industry designers to “share insights and best practices on topics ranging from leadership to product design, and future trends.”
To date, Designer Fund has made investments in Omada, Shyp, Altschool, Stripe, and Gusto.