$5.5 Million BlackBerry Fund Invests In Future Mobile Harvest

Recipients Digby, Buzzd, and WorldMate are expected to build applications that will show up on RIM's application store next March.
Slow of the mark to add independent applications to the popular line of BlackBerry smart phones, the BlackBerry Partners Fund has picked its first major investments, choosing companies that already have successful mobile products and services on the market.

The fund set aside $5.5 million for mobile commerce provider Digby, which began service in December using BlackBerry handsets used by Alltel users. Based in Austin, Texas, Digby has set up a secure wallet and location-based service for mobile shopping.

Buzzd, a mobile city guide and social network based in New York City, is receiving $3.2 million and Israel's WorldMate is getting $8 million for its travel-based service.

While the three investments were announced by the BlackBerry Partners Fund, several telecommunications firms and venture capital companies are participating in different segments of the financings and, taken together, constitute a complex web of companies and disciplines. Motorola and the U.K.'s AMC Communications are important mobile product providers in their own right.

"Since its inception this past May, the BlackBerry Partners Fund has had the opportunity to review thousands of business plans from companies focused on developing the next generation of business and consumer applications for BlackBerry and other smartphone platforms," said John Albright, co-managing partner of the Toronto-based fund, in a statement.

The provider of the BlackBerry, Research in Motion, has said it plans to open an application store next March. Although the store opening will follow similar application store efforts by Nokia's Symbian Foundation and Apple's iPhone, the BlackBerry family boasts seasoned maturity based on years of delivering the smartphone to consumers and businesses.

All three new investments already have strong starts in the mobile wireless world. Through its partnership with Alltel, Digby has several months experience in mobile shopping with retailers like Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and Vermont Teddy Bears. When the Alltel BlackBerry service was announced in December, Digby said the service could be utilized by a variety of consumers with BlackBerry devices and wouldn't be restricted to Alltel subscribers. Indeed, BlackBerry Fund executives indicated their investments would be available to a wide range of mobile wireless users and not just to BlackBerry owners.

Buzzd enables its users to obtain up-to-the-minute information in a user's immediate vicinity. The service was featured on Information Week last summer that focused in Buzzd's "Buy Your Friend A Drink" feature. Bars across the nation signed up for the feature, which enables a Buzzd user to send a drink to a friend.

With its flight schedules, maps, currency converters, world clocks and international weather forecasts, MobiMate's WorldMate service is aimed at making life easier for travelers. A Motorola venture unit and AMC Communications, which has close ties to mobile phone service provider Vodafone Group, are participating in the WorldMate investment along with several venture capital firms.

"Our goal," said Kevin Talbot, another co-manager of the BlackBerry Partners Fund, "is to be the primary destination for entrepreneurs that are building behavior changing smartphone applications and that are determined to be the architects of the mobile ecosystem of the future."