BlackBerry Fund Raises $150 Million to Invest in App Startups

ATP Capital, manager of the BlackBerry Partners Fund, raised $150 million for a new fund to invest in startups that develop applications for a range of mobile-phone platforms.

“We have been agnostic from day one,” Co-Managing Partner Kevin Talbot said yesterday in a phone interview. That means investing in early-stage businesses based on Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iOS operating system and Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android platform as well as Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM)’s BlackBerry. “If you look at our portfolio, you’ll see far more broad horizontal plays. That’s how you build big companies.”

Venture-capital firms are investing more in software developers as their apps become increasingly important to consumers when choosing among mobile phones and tablet computers. Faster sales growth and a wider variety of apps have attracted more developers to Apple than other systems.

Eighty-nine percent of developers in a recent survey by Appcelerator and IDC said they were “very interested” in developing for the iPhone. For Android phones, the figure was 79 percent, while only 16 percent of developers polled were “very interested” in building apps for the BlackBerry phone.

Talbot said ATP Capital is being rebranded as Relay Ventures as it begins to manage the second BlackBerry Partners Fund, whose lead investor is Northleaf Capital Partners. The new fund also has support from Thomson Reuters Corp. (TRI), Corus Entertainment Inc. (CJR/B) and RIM.

The original BlackBerry Partners Fund began in Toronto with a $150 million investment in 2008 and then planned a second fund to invest in startups in emerging markets before scaling back to focus on North America. Talbot has relocated to Menlo Park, California, near San Francisco, to run the new fund with Managing Partner John Albright.

Slumping BlackBerry Sales

RIM has struggled to attract the same interest from developers as iOS and Android because of the BlackBerry’s slumping sales and delays in overhauling its own operating system. RIM’s share of the global smartphone market slipped to 8.2 percent in the fourth quarter from 14 percent a year earlier, while Apple’s share rose to 24 percent from 16 percent, according to IDC.

Appcelerator, which does market research and offers “cloud” storage for mobile devices, has received funding from Relay. Talbot stressed that the fund’s focus is on investing in companies for the long term.

“It’s not about the apps of the moment,” he said. “It’s about building big businesses.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at hugomiller@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net

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