Josh Harris’s new shop, 26North, seeds venture firm launched by ex-BlackRock exec

Braven is being launched by William Abecassis, who spent over a decade at BlackRock, including leading equity and debt investments in growth stage companies as head of innovation capital.

26North Partners, Apollo co-founder Josh Harris’s new shop, is backing the formation of a venture capital firm focused on early-stage investments launched by former BlackRock executive William Abecassis.

The firm is expected to announce the deal today, which represents one of its early investments. Harris announced the launch of 26North in September after more than three decades at Apollo. The firm, which started its life with $5 billion under management and has quickly grown to more than $9.5 billion in AUM, is among several new shops facing industry headwinds in the dislocated markets.

The investment is in a new venture firm called Braven, in which 26North will be an anchor investor and have an equity stake, sources told Buyouts. Braven is being launched by Abecassis, who spent over a decade at BlackRock, including leading equity and debt investments in growth stage companies as head of innovation capital.

Braven targets early-stage companies in regulated industries like healthcare, finance, industrial infrastructure and defense. “Today’s dominant VC model works for independent disruptors, but it isn’t built to help innovators in complex, regulated industries who need to collaborate and coordinate with many critical stakeholders,” Abecassis said in a statement.

“We’ve engineered a model of deep, active engagement with portfolio companies in which
Braven and partners such as 26North provide the expertise, relationships, and resources
needed to effectively engage their industries’ ecosystems.”

Abecassis explained Braven falls in between private equity, with its ethos of control, and venture capital, with its freewheeling, broad-brush approach to finding the next great innovation. “There’s a balancing point, where you’re not in control, but you’re also very engaged,” he said in an interview this week. “A model that kind of achieves that balance and does it in a way that provides a path or opportunity set for the start-up they can’t access on their own.”

Braven’s fundraising plans are not clear, and a spokesperson declined to comment.

Braven will focus on making several investments each year, a reflection of the deep research it needs to accomplish first in its subsectors before it starts hunting for individual companies to back. “We build conviction way before making an investment,” Abecassis said.

It’s not clear if 26North intends to raise a fund this year. The firm includes a bench of hefty talent. Other executives along with Harris include Mark Weinberg, who formerly led US private equity at Brookfield Asset Management, who will join in 2023 to lead private equity; and Brendan McGovern, former head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management’s private credit group, who is leading the firm’s direct lending program.

Others include former Centerbridge and Goldman Sachs partner Lance West; former Apollo Global Management managing director Evan Zemsky; former Blackstone managing director Tina Raja; and former Security Benefit Life executive Cole Charnas.

American Equity Investment Life Holding Co invested in 26North, according to a November announcement.