We have five questions for Nico Berardi of Animo Ventures, Miami’s newly announced seed fund that has already invested $11 million in startups.
By Nancy Dahlberg
“Animo stands for intention, courage, spirit, sensibility, feeling, passion, pride, vehemence — to infuse something with energy & enthusiasm. We believe all of these make up the human condition … “We believe it’s time to go back to basics, to the very human aspect of entrepreneurship,” the co-founders of Animo Ventures, a newly announced $60 million seed fund based in Miami, said in their introductory blog post.
In November, Animo’s founder and general partner, Nico Berardi, officially unveiled the boutique venture fund, formerly operating in stealth mode under the name Magnetico Ventures for more than a year. Berardi, originally from Argentina who lives in Miami, ran the relaunched Miami Angels (formerly called AGP) for two years and before that was CEO of the nonprofit, Techo. Since his time at Miami Angels, he completed a 2-year Kauffman Fellowship in venture and graduated from Harvard Business School. Berardi has two partners in Animo: Antonio Osio, a native Mexican who met Berardi through Kauffman Fellows and previously ran his own firm, Capital Invent, and Operations Partner Caro Acevedo, who worked with Berardi as his COO at Techo and lives in Argentina.
So far, Animo (animo.vc) has made 12 investments amounting to about $11 million, counting a term sheet signed this month. About one-third of them have been in New York-based startups, a third in San Francisco and the others in Arizona, Virginia, Toronto and Miami. Its Miami investment is Blanket, a startup founded by Alex Nucci and Ricardo Vazquez that automates the sales development process.
The fund’s anchor LP is Techint Group; a global conglomerate of public & private companies spanning the steel, construction, and healthcare sectors.
It has been an especially busy fourth quarter for Berardi. “We announced the firm, I got married, we bought a house – and we did two deals in Q4.”
I wanted to find out more about the fund, which invests big checks — $500K to $2 million – in very early stage companies, and the team’s super hands-on approach. Here are excerpts of what Berardi had to say in a recent interview.
What is most unique about your investing strategy?
We are writing large checks very early. If you look at the seed market in the U.S., there’s roughly 600 active seed investors in the country of which only 20 are willing to lead seed rounds outside San Francisco.
So while the seed market is “crowded,” it also isn’t. We are taking a very boutique approach to seed and pre-seed investing. We are investing from $500K to $2 million in companies that are raising anywhere from $500k to $4 million so we are always at least 50 percent of the round.
We are always leading or co-leading and we are really active with the companies we invest in. I speak with all my founders every 48 hours. So taking that high stakes, high conviction, hands on, small portfolio approach to seed is somewhat unique.
I look at Miami and think Miami has one or two breakout companies a year. And if that’s true here, it has to be true in other places. So we are running this experiment that we are going to all these places. We’ve been to Seattle, Salt Lake City, Boston, Atlanta, Raleigh, Austin and of course I live in Miami. And that I see as airline arbitrage.
There are more and more startups being built everywhere and I don’t think people are paying enough attention. And I think we can be that bridge between smaller ecosystems and the bubble. The bubble which we are very much a part of, the Kauffman Fellows connection, HBS, my partner went to MIT, but at the same time we are part of the bubble and we’re not – we’re immigrants, scrappy, hungry, we can play that duality to our advantage. I think it’s 1 percent of GPs are LatinX. We aren’t very traditional. It’s just part of who we are.
We are working really hard. The reason we have been able to invest in the quality of companies that we have gotten access to is because founders are seeing that we are founders just like themselves. They see we are working just as hard as they are and that Animo is our life work.
That generates a type of alignment I don’t think is frequent in our industry.
What did you learn at Miami angels and Kauffman Fellows that you are employing now?
In both, the power and importance of building community. Think what is Miami Angels, and that is exactly what it is – building community. Kauffman talks about radical self-belief and work ethic. If you work really hard, you are a good person, you are willing to bet on yourself, then things should work. What I would add to that is community. I’ve been a community builder my whole life, first with the nonprofit Techo and then with Miami Angels, where I am still on the board.
What do you look for in an investment?
To us, 80 percent of the decision making is around the team, 15 percent is the market and 5 percent is the product. We are investing so so so early, I can’t afford to fall in love with the product because the product will change. The product will inevitably change, the market might change, so all you have is the team. We’ve leaned more B2B in the beginning, 60 percent of our portfolio, 40 percent is B2C.
We are doing pre-seed and seed. We will not do Series A as an entry point. That’s a different ball game and we are just not built to win at that.
We’re agnostic and we are generalist. The only thing we won’t do is FDA related stuff because we aren’t built for those kinds of companies because we don’t really understand it. If we can’t be helpful and we can’t be the best possible partner, then you shouldn’t be partners with us.
What are a couple of your investments and what attracted you to them?
We are paying close attention to what we see as the evolution of trust. We made investment in Syncari, which is an AI company doing two way and real time data synch, and the role of trust is with data being never more siloed, it is very hard to know what and where to trust within your organization.
We invested in a company called Yay Lunch!, healthy school meals for kids delivered at school. Most families don’t have the time or the money to pack a lunch every day that’s healthy and tasty.
We are looking at the changing place of care so we invested in a menopause company called Ohana, a consumer brand looking to change how women go through menopause, starting with the stigma around menopause, and delivering at-home hormone replacement. In traditional healthcare, the iteration of what hormones you need could take 6 months each time; theirs takes 2 weeks in the comfort of your own home.
What do you think about Miami’s progress as an ecosystem?
I am a big believer. I spent two years of my life building Miami Angels, I bought a house, I want Miami to succeed as much as anybody. I think we are at this post-hype phase, where there are real companies being built and we are starting to see the results of that. I think we need more patience — these things take a long time. We are seeing good companies raise good capital, we are seeing new fuel from the out of town moving to Miami — the Aaron Hirschhorns, the David Koretzes are now here. One of Miami’s strengths is we are naturally diverse. Just look at the investors in town, all the investors are one way or another diverse. I think that occurred because it is who we are.
So I’m bullish. For the type of investment we do and the kind of companies we look for, I think we will be making one or two investments here a year, hopefully more.
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