San Francisco 49ers owners are deep into venture capital

If you’re unfamiliar with the ownership structure of the San Francisco 49ers, I’ll give you a quick overview. The team is owned by 49ers Enterprises – Denise DeBartolo York and John York are co-presidents and their son Jed York is CEO.

Under Jed York, whose tenure began in late 2008, the 49ers played in two Super Bowls, but they haven’t been able to win a title since the 1994 season.

As the team strives to lift the Lombardi Trophy again, Aurum Partners – the York family’s venture capital fund affiliated with the 49ers – has quietly invested in about forty companies.

A family matter

Brano Perkovich, chief investment officer of the 49ers and managing partner of Aurum, describes the fund as “a direct investment arm focused on family office private equity.”

Although Aurum, founded in 2014, does not disclose its financial data, the company says its investments would be rank it in the first decile of all venture capital funds based on performance to date.

“The fund, and I use the term fund broadly, has no outside capital or limited liability company,” Perkovich explained.

He also said that Aurum can be more patient with opportunities and investments because it is a family fund that is built on the principle of operating for generations to come.

Big releases

Aurum’s investments range from Squire, a hair salon operating platform, to GreenPark, a multiverse sports product. The fund is more than a family business.

  • Squire received Series B funding from Aurum in 2015. As of June 2021, the company was valued at $750 million.
  • Aurum invested in HR platform Gusto as part of a Series B funding round, also in 2015. The company was valued at $9.5 billion as of August 2021.
  • Other companies Aurum is currently investing in include youth sports broadcaster BallerTV, Carrot Fertility, AI platform Satisfi Labs and technology company Thrive Global.

Aurum did successful outings of a number of other companies.

  • The fund invested in the Series A of sustainable sneaker brand Allbirds in 2016 before the company – now valued at $2 billion – went public last year.
  • Sports and live event payment platform Appetize, which was acquired by SpotOn for $415 million in September 2021, received seed funding from Aurum in 2015.
  • Other releases include Dropbox, FanDuel and VenueNext, creator of point-of-sale technology used in sports stadiums and other venues.

Perkovich says the current fund’s internal rate of return is around 80%.

Investment thesis

Aurum is scene and industry independent in its investments.

“We try not to be thematic but opportunistic,” Perkovich said. “Football will always be at the heart of what we do in terms of focus and capabilities, but ultimately everything we do is consumer-centric, whether B2C or B2B2C.”

Categories beyond athletics are attractive because of their even wider mainstream potential, but one of the most important criteria is how close Aurum can work with its partners.

“The value we bring to the table must go beyond simply writing a check. If companies come to us with the sole expectation that we provide capital and are passive investors, that is not not a situation we want to be part of.

Aurum’s portfolio companies can leverage the 49ers network, which extends to many other professional sports entities. 49ers Enterprises, for example, owns 44% of English Premier League club Leeds United.

“We can bring in other teams, other organizations, whether it’s in our league or elsewhere, and come up with some solutions,” Perkovich said.

And after?

Historically, Aurum has made about 6-8 investments per year.

“$250,000 is probably the minimum or the bottom of what we would do,” Perkovich said of the fund’s bar for entry-level investments. “We like being able to follow, and that number is a good place where we feel like we have skin in the game.”

The fund remains on the lookout for additional investment opportunities, despite the recent market downturn. It is believed that these circumstances could very well even accelerate innovation in the spaces where Aurum seeks to invest.

Either way, two things are certain: The York family wants more on-court wins from the 49ers, and they’re done keeping quiet about their venture wins.

About Meredith Campagna

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