- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008


Location, location, location is the theme for the first investments made by a venture-capital fund set up with money from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.

Toronto-based BlackBerry Partners Fund LP was created in May to invest $150 million in companies developing software for BlackBerrys and other phones. Co-investing with RIM were Royal Bank of Canada and Thomson Reuters Corp., among others.

BlackBerry Partners is similar to another fund set up with support from Apple Inc. to invest in companies making software for the iPhone, but the portfolio is quite broad. That is reflected in its first three investments, set to be announced on Wednesday. None of the recipient companies makes software exclusively for the BlackBerry.

The fund is leading an $8 million round for MobiMate Ltd., an Israeli company that makes an application called WorldMate. It helps frequent travelers by keeping track of delayed flights, guiding them to hotels and suggesting restaurants. It can use information from global positioning chips to know where the user is and keep the itinerary in sync with the time zone.

Digby Inc., an Austin, Texas-based firm, is raising $5.5 million with BlackBerry Partners as the co-lead. Digby helps retailers set up Web stores for cell phone screens, and can also guide a user to a physical store if the phone’s GPS chip indicates that one is close.

John Albright, co-managing partner of the fund, said shopping on cell phones is now at the stage where PC-based Web commerce was in the ‘90s, and is likely to follow the same growth trajectory to hundreds of billions of dollars in annual sales.

“We believe Digby will be powering a significant part of that commerce,” Mr. Albright said.

The third investment is in Buzzd, a New York-based firm that makes an interactive city guide. It, too, senses where the user is and can recommend nearby events and restaurants. It’s getting $3.2 million.

As is usual for venture funds, BlackBerry Partners didn’t reveal the amounts it is investing in each startup, only the total amount raised by all investors in the round.

In many rural areas, people who want high-speed Internet access have only one option: relatively slow and expensive satellite dishes. Now parts of rural Vermont could get a new choice.

Phone company FairPoint Communications Inc. intends to beam Internet connections over radio waves to homes and business in the state, in what appears to be the largest planned U.S. deployment of “fixed wireless” technology as a substitute for wired Internet service.

FairPoint has 300,000 phone customers in Vermont, most of whom it acquired from Verizon Communications Inc. this year. Three-quarters of them will have access to broadband by the end of the year through their phone lines.

However, some phone lines in rural areas extend so far from the phone company’s base that the DSL broadband signal doesn’t reach the subscriber. For those, FairPoint plans to use wireless WiMax equipment from Nortel Networks Corp. and Airspan Networks Inc., the companies said Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses could be offered WiMax service, FairPoint spokeswoman Beth Fastiggi said.




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