VC fund briefs, week of May 19, 2008

RIM unveils BlackBerry fund

Research in Motion has formed a $150 million venture capital fund to invest in mobile applications and services that will work with its BlackBerry devices. The BlackBerry Partners Fund, co-managed by RBC Venture Partners and JLA Ventures, raised the commitments from RIM, RBC and Thomson Reuters (publisher of VCJ).

The size of the fund rivals that of the iFund, a joint venture between Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Apple Inc. The pair has agreed to invest $100 million in startups developing applications that run on Apple’s iPhone.

The BlackBerry fund was launched because “mobile applications and services represent some of the hottest opportunities in the technology sector today,” RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in a prepared release.

Developers that are backed by the BlackBerry fund will not be restricted from developing apps or services for other mobile platforms, according to Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM.

Lightspeed locks down $800M

Lightspeed Venture Partners last week closed its eighth fund with $800 million in commitments, beating its $675 million target.

Lightspeed says it will continue to invest in seed and early stage IT and cleantech companies in the United States and Israel, and it will invest in early stage tech companies and growth stage companies in a range of product and service businesses in China and India.

Omidyar helps microfinance fund

Philanthropic venture investor Omidyar Network and global investor Legatum and have each committed $20 million to Unitus Equity Fund II, a nonprofit microfinance fund focused on the poor in developing nations. Unitas said in a prepared statement that the new fund will “provide capital to growth-oriented MFIs that are run by visionary, entrepreneurial leaders.”

Abingworth aims for growth

Abingworth Management, a health care-focused VC firm, is planning to raise between $100 million and $200 million for its first growth equity fund, according to VentureWire. The London-based firm hoped to hold a first close in May or June. It raised $587 million in 2006 for Abingworth Bioventures V, according to Thomson Reuters (publisher of PE Week).

Singapore gets Sirius

Sirius Venture Consulting Pte. Ltd. is targeting $22 million for a new fund that will invest in growth and expansion-stage companies in Singapore. It already has held a first close and hopes to reach its goal for what it is calling the Sirius SME Growth Fund by mid-2008.

The fund was co-founded by Eugene Wong and Glenn Chao. Sirius has previously invested in such Singapore-based companies as Comms Design International, Jackspeed and Soundbuzz.

Pappas in the market

Life sciences investor Pappas Ventures is raising its fourth fund with a $200 million target, according to VentureWire. The Durham, N.C.-based firm raised $108 million in 2005 for its third fund, according to Thomson Reuters.

Pappas’ third fund has invested in at least nine companies, one of which was acquired and one that went public via reverse merger. Cerexa Inc., which develops hospital-based anti-infective therapies, was bought by Forest Laboratories Inc. for $580 million in December 2006. Cerexa had previously raised a single round of $50 million from in August 2005 from Pappas and 11 other backers.

Athersys Inc. (Nasdaq: ATHX), which makes drugs to treat life-threatening diseases, went public through a reverse merger in June 2007 and also raised $65 million from Pappas and other venture backers, bringing its total venture backing to date to about $158 million.

Scale targets $400M

Scale Venture Partners is seeking $400 million for a new fund, according to VentureWire. Scale, previously known as BA Venture Partners, raised $400 million for Scale Venture Partners II in 2005.

To date, Scale Venture Partners II has invested in at least 23 companies, according to Thomson Reuters. Of the 23, two have gone public: Omniture Inc. (Nasdaq: OMTR), which makes Web analytics technology for online businesses, and Orexigen Therapeutics Inc. (Nasdaq: OREX), which makes drugs to treat obesity. A third company from that portfolio is in registration to go public, Zogenix Inc., which makes medicines to treat central nervous system disorders and pain.

Partech asks LPs for help

San Fransico-based Partech International recently asked its limited partners to help arbitrate a spat amongst the general partners.

The firm, which also has offices in France and Israel, recently closed its fifth international fund with $300 million in commitments. Details of the dispute are unclear, but a source familiar with the situation says that it has more to do with personalities than investment strategy. Vincent Worms, Partech’s co-founder and managing partner, acknowledged the situation in an interview last week.

When the general partners were unable to reconcile their differences, they asked for their LP advisory board to arbitrate. The advisory board has since done so and issued a set of recommendations that would result in the departure, or possible transition, of certain firm personnel, according to a source.

“These are discussions related to the management of the fund, but it is not going to result in a major reorganization,” Worms said. “Partech will remain trans-Atlantic… It’s not going to disappear.”

Partech’s general partners adopted the LP recommendations in principle, and have sent out amended fund documents to all of their fund V investors. The process is expected to be complete by the end of the month. In the meantime, Partech cannot make any new investments, though it has the go-ahead to invest in follow-on deals from its past funds.

Worms says he’s among the expected survivors.

Partech has already lost three partners since the beginning of 2006 (Glenn Solomon, Kevin Carrington and David Walsh), plus a couple of associates and its in-house marketing manager.