Following its acquisition by SAY Media, ReadWriteWeb’s COO Sean Ammirati is leaving the company to join Birchmere Ventures, an early-stage VC firm with investments in cleantech, medical, and technology startups. Ammirati will be added to Birchmere’s investment team and will serve as the lead partner for a new fund within the company called Birchmere Labs. Similar to betaworks, Birchmere Labs will be a studio fund where the firm will develop its own startups, however it will also serve as a seed fund, investing in early stage startups, and specifically those in the “community driven commerce” space.
Prior to serving as COO at ReadWriteWeb, Ammirati was the co-founder and CEO at mSpoke, LinkedIn’s first acquisition. He’s also an Adjunct of Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.
The decision to exit SAY Media post-acquisition shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, Ammirati tells us, as there aren’t a lot of people who do what he did for ReadWriteWeb at his new company. Moving to Birchmere felt like a good next step, he says.
For background, Birchmere is home to a fairly good-sized VC fund run by Ned Renzi and Sean Sebastian which has invested $160 million in companies that have gone on to achieve a total market valuation of over $14 billion. The firm has offices in both Pittsburgh and Palo Alto, but Ammirati expects to be spending a lot of time in New York in search of startups.
Until now, Birchmere’s focus has been on IP-heavy companies addressing engineering-heavy problems – not web companies. Birchmere Labs, as a combination studio and seed fund will be structurally different from something like betaworks, but from a model perspective it will be similar in that it both invests in companies and tries to create companies in-house. “Structurally, we’ll actually be a fund, where betaworks is a holding company,” Ammirati explains.
As for the newly formed Birchmere Labs, the focus is on “community driven commerce startups,” which means that the businesses it funds need to have a network effect to them. That is, the first users should get value from them, but the startups will become increasingly valuable as new users sign on. As for “commerce,” that just means companies will have transaction-based, rather than advertising-based, revenue models.
For example, a company like Birchbox is the kind of startup that the fund would invest in. (But that’s just an example – Birchbox is actually too far along to be in need of seed funding, of course).
Ammirati tells us that there’s no set number of startups Birchmere Labs will invest in, as it wants to remain agile, investing in both studio or seed stage companies, as need be. “We have flexibility in the documents to do either of those,” says Ammirati, “but we definitely have in mind to do at least a couple of seed deals and make a couple of investments in studio companies in the next year.”
Birchmere is not disclosing the size of the fund, but Ammirati confirms they’ve “closed on millions” so far.