Australia tech founders have a good reason for excitement today. Sydney-based VC firm Blackbird Ventures has officially launched, announcing its AU$30 million (US$31 million) fund — with close links to the US — that is dedicated to supporting startups and helping them grow overseas.
Blackbird first got together last August, and since then it has already raised an initial $20 million via a closed round featuring more than 35 investors, including prominent Australian VCs, US-based Bill Tai, 500 Startups chief Dave McClure and others from Silicon Valley. The founding team is looking to raise an additional $10 million from other investors before it closes the fund “later in the year”.
The fund is intended to address “a real gap” in the local investment community in Australia. Acknowledging that there is already an abundance of opportunities for angel investments, it will provide funding for later stages in the startup lifecycle, aiming to realize the potential of promising young companies in Australia.
Blackbird expects the fund to support 25 investments and the money is already flowing. Its first deals include undisclosed rounds with Canva, a collaborative design platform currently in stealth mode, and Ninja Blocks, an interesting startup that builds Nest-like connected hardware.
Interestingly, the company says that its financial backers are bringing their “time” and money to the fund, so it is likely that the ever-intrepid McClure, and others from the US, will be making appearances in Australia very soon.
Blackbird’s management team consists of Niki Scevak, who founded Australian accelerator Startmate, Rick Baker formerly of NAB-owned wealth management firm MLC, and Bill Bartee, who is the co-founder of Southern Cross Venture Partners. The trio in Australia are joined by Silicon Valley-based John Scull — a partner at Southern Cross — who will be its primary eyes and ears state-side
Scevak says the fund is devoted to identifying and “helping the next wave of Australian startups”. Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Australian software development Atlassian and a major investor in Blackbird, echoes his comments, calling the launch “a huge day for the Australian technology industry”.
Australia’s startups are in a difficult position because of the country’s geography. With a comparatively modest population of some 22 million, they’re often forced to look overseas for growth but are literally on the other side of the world to Silicon Valley — San Francisco is 17 hours behind Syndey, for example.
Aiming to change that paradigm, Baker says the fund will maintain strong links with the US to give its startups access to mentoring, networking and, of course, market opportunities:
We have a strong focus on businesses that we can help inject into the Silicon Valley ecosystem to connect them with expertise, customers and sources of finance. The combination of our partnership with Sydney-Palo Alto based Southern Cross Ventures and our strong network of Silicon Valley advisors and venture capitalists means we’re in an excellent position to do this.
We’re looking forward to seeing the fruits of the fund. Baker tells TNW that there are two deals in the pipeline, those interested in more details about the fund can visit Blackbird.vc.
Here is the full announcement:
Announcing the Blackbird Ventures Fund
SYDNEY AUSTRALIA – 14 March 2013 – Blackbird Ventures (www.blackbird.vc) today announced the formation and first close of its $30 million venture capital fund. The fund will invest in Australian Internet startups and help them succeed on a global stage. Blackbird brings together Startmate, Southern Cross Venture Partners, and prominent founders of highly successful local companies including Atlassian, Campaign Monitor and Aconex.
The majority of the Fund’s capital has been raised in a first close focused on industry insiders, including over 35 successful Australian tech founders and Silicon Valley venture capitalists like Bill Tai and Dave McClure, all of whom are investing not only their money but also their time to help Australian startups succeed. Other investors will have the opportunity to participate before the Fund’s final close later in the year.
Blending experience and a passion for entrepreneurship, the local management team consists of Niki Scevak, founder of Australian accelerator Startmate; Rick Baker who ran venture investing at MLC and Bill Bartee, co-founder of Southern Cross Venture Partners. They are assisted in Silicon Valley by Southern Cross partner, John Scull, who sits on the Investment Committee.
Blackbird co-founder Niki Scevak said “The essential ingredients of Blackbird are successful founders helping the next wave of Australian startups. We’re bringing the same experience we have seen work at Startmate in the initial months of a startup’s life to more developed companies at the next stage.”
“Today is a huge day for the Australian technology industry and I’m excited to be involved with Blackbird because it represents a truly founder-led effort in helping startups,” said Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian. Cannon-Brookes, while also being a major investor in the fund, will join as a venture partner and advise the firm and investee companies.
“Being an investor in the Blackbird fund gives me an opportunity to support and be an active participant in the Australian technology industry,” said Bardia Housman, whose last company, Business Catalyst, sold to Adobe. “It’s made up of a wide array of successful industry people and entrepreneurs spanning both Australia and Silicon Valley. We will be able to add tremendous value to aspiring Australian entrepreneurs who want to build global businesses,”
Blackbird also has strong links to Silicon Valley. “We have a strong focus on businesses that we can help inject into the Silicon Valley ecosystem to connect them with expertise, customers and sources of finance,” said Rick Baker, co-founder of Blackbird. “The combination of our partnership with Sydney-Palo Alto based Southern Cross Ventures and our strong network of Silicon Valley advisors and venture capitalists means we’re in an excellent position to do this.”
Well known Silicon Valley investor, Bill Tai, a partner at CRV and angel investor said, “Blackbird Ventures has placed itself in the vortex of the tech scene in Australia through its founder community, LPs and startup network from past investments. As more capital looks to fuel the growing number of world class startups from Australia, Blackbird is positioned to be the trusted investment partner for the US VC ecosystem as they have become for me.”
Blackbird co-founder and partner at Southern Cross Venture Partners, Bill Bartee, said, “Southern Cross is thrilled to be teaming up to form Blackbird Ventures, which is set up specifically to invest in fast growing, capital light models in the Internet, software and mobile spaces”. The management team believes there is a real gap in the Australian venture capital market: while there is funding for small angel rounds, there are very few professional investors focusing on the next stage where Blackbird will predominately play.
Blackbird’s first investments include Canva and Ninja Blocks. It expects to make around 25 investments from the fund.
Headline image via harlequeen / Flickr
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