Inspired Capital, the New York-based early-stage venture firm that was founded in 2019 by entrepreneurs Alexa von Tobel and Penny Pritzker, is today announcing the close of their second fund with $281 million in capital commitments, an amount that brings the firm’s total assets under management to nearly half a billion dollars. (Inspired raised $200 million for its debut fund.)
We talked earlier this week with von Tobel about the portfolio of 25 companies that her firm — which also counts as cofounders partner Lucy Deland and COO Mark Batsiyan — helped to fund with its first vehicle. We also talked, of course, about Inspired’s new fund, which, like its predecessor, will be used to invest in a wide range of companies, mostly, but not exclusively, in the U.S.
Excerpts from that conversation follow.
TC: You have a larger fund — will the strategy remain the same?
AV: We’re the same team, same strategy, same everything, so [writing] seed to Series A [checks]. We can go from early, early seed — truly, like a napkin idea — all the way to writing $15 million checks. We’re still really collaborative, so we both lead and co-lead deals. We’re a generalist fund investing around the country, so our first fund was equally weighted on East and West Coasts by companies that ranged from many categories.
[Editor’s note: some of these include the business banking startup Rho, a LatAm real estate company called Habi, the embedded payments startup Finix, and an autonomous landscaping startup called Scythe that makes all-electric mowers and employs a robots-as-a-service revenue model.]
TC: You rolled out your first fund five months before the coronavirus shut down the U.S. How did that impact you?
AV: We stood up fund one in February, 2019, then I had my third child, then we closed the fund that summer, so yes, we literally went into COVID. But it was a brand-new fund with fresh capital, so by nature, any of the companies that we backed, we’d just backed, so they were in good shape; they had 24 months of runway.
Also, our team has over 55 years of connectivity. Lucy and I have known each other for 20 years. Mark and I have known each other for 11 years. Penny and I have known each other for almost a decade. Our VP of platform has been with me for 12 years. Even [my PR firm] has been with me for almost 12 years, so that allowed us to be extremely nimble to what was happening in the world.
TC: You founded and sold a financial planning company, LearnVest. Inspired isn’t funding fintech exclusively, but it sounds like you are investing only in the U.S. when there’s a lot happening in fintech elsewhere, too.
AV: We invested 40% of our first fund on the East Coast, 40% on the West Coast, and 20% in the middle of the country, as well as internationally. For example, we have a great [Bogota, Colombia-based] portfolio company called Habi that’s on an exceptional course and that just raised $100 million led by SoftBank. I’ve known [cofounder Brynne McNulty Rojas] for years, and we had a really clear thesis on the category, so I went and tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Can we back you?’
TC: Which companies have received the most capital from Inspired so far?
AV: Habi is one. Another is Dandy [a company that’s trying to modernize the dental lab process]. A third is Orum that we helped incubate. [It aims to speed up interbank transfer and closed on $56 million in Series B funding in June.] It was super early. It was my old team from LearnVest.
TC: Are you planning to incubate more companies, or was that more of an anomaly?
AV: When the stars properly align, you will absolutely see more of that from us.