BlackBerry Partners makes first investments

NEW YORK -- Location, location, location is the theme for the first investments made by a venture capital fund set up with money from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.

Toronto-based BlackBerry Partners Fund LP was created in May to invest $150 million in companies developing software for BlackBerrys and other phones. Co-investing with RIM were Royal Bank of Canada and Thomson Reuters, among others.

BlackBerry Partners is similar to another fund set up with support from Apple Inc. to invest in companies making software for the iPhone, but the portfolio is quite broad. That is reflected in its first three investments, set to be announced on Wednesday. None of the recipient companies makes software exclusively for the BlackBerry.

The fund is leading a $8 million round for MobiMate Ltd., an Israeli company that makes an application called WorldMate. It helps frequent travelers by keeping track of delayed flights, guiding them to hotels and suggesting restaurants. It can use information from global positioning chips to know where the user is and keep the itinerary in sync with the time zone.

Digby, an Austin, Texas-based firm, is raising $5.5 million with BlackBerry Partners as the co-lead. Digby helps retailers set up Web stores for cellphone screens, and can also guide a user to a physical store if the phone's GPS chip indicates that one is close.

John Albright, co-managing partner of the fund, said shopping on cellphones is now at the stage where PC-based Web commerce was in the '90s, and is likely to follow the same growth trajectory to hundreds of billions of dollars in annual sales.

"We believe Digby will be powering a significant part of that commerce," Albright said.

The third investment is in Buzzd, a New York-based firm that makes an interactive city guide. It, too, senses where the user is, and can recommend nearby events and restaurants. It's getting $3.2 million.

As is usual for venture funds, BlackBerry Partners didn't reveal the amounts it is investing in each start-up, only the total amount raised by all investors in the round.

The fund is managed by JLA Ventures and RBC Venture Partners.