A new seed-stage investment fund and ‘company creation’ startup called BrandProject launched today, with offices in Toronto and New York, and a team of founders who, between them, have a boatload of experience building, shipping and marketing consumer hardware and software for some of the biggest brands on the planet.
The five-person founding team includes founder and CEO Andrew Black, who’s worked with Nike, Virgin and Lego; Stanley Hainsworth, a former VP of Starbucks and in-store branding/packaging expert who invented the Gatorade bottle; Jay Bhatti, CTO and former director of a boutique search marketing firm that counted Barneys and Coach as clients; and Sarah Prevette, former founder of entrepreneurial social network Sprouter and startup publication BetaKit (disclosure: I previously worked for BetaKit when Prevette was editor in chief).
The team will be working in what Prevette described in an interview as a “betaworks“-style approach to incubating talent and early-stage companies that aim to create consumer software and physical products, sometimes investing money with the $12 million initial they’ve amassed from private investors, the founding team itself, and BDC Venture Capital.
“The model is really flexible,” Prevette explained. “We look for really exciting transformational ideals that have traction in a wide variety of consumer verticals. We look at everything from health, to fitness, to beauty, to home consumer hardware and consumer tech. We’re also always looking for phenomenal people with a track record of success, but people come to us at different stages.”
BrandProject is incubating some ideas sourced from the founders that solve problems they’ve been having themselves, for instance, and they’re seeking “industry experts who share that passion” to help build those products and bring them to market. They’ve also already quietly worked with BRIKA, Hello Products, Caffeinated Chocolate and The Coveteur via investment and assistance in growing their business.
The consumer focus with a willingness to bet on hardware, especially for an incubator and early stage investor that has one foot planted firmly in Canada, is a rare thing. The investment climate locally in Toronto seems to have become more cautious lately, which has led to some funds closing entirely, and both investors and accelerators turning their attention to more enterprise and B2B companies, which represent less risk relative to the fickle consumer market.
Prevette says to expect to start seeing more from BrandProject and the companies it’s helping build very soon, but while the concept has a solid proven foundation with the likes of betaworks and Idealab, there’s still a lot of risk inherent in the model. BrandProject does have a team with a solid history of building and selling consumer products, however, and it shouldn’t have any trouble attracted talented people on the Canadian side of the border where resources for entrepreneurs interested in chasing the consumer market are relatively few and far between.