Sports-focused Will Ventures has closed on a $150 million fund, the second fund from the early stage venture capital firm.
Will Ventures focuses on making seed investments in sports and sports-adjacent businesses and conducting follow-on investments in tandem with other investors. The shop opened its first fund for $50 million in 2019 and has invested in fantasy sports stock exchange Jock MKT, media platform Just Women’s Sports and digital collectibles firm Candy Digital, among other startups.
In a phone interview, co-founder and managing partner Isaiah Kacyvenski said the firm has a “research-backed, thesis-driven approach to this perceived niche market—sports—broadly defined as a way to open up massive adjacencies.”
The firm focuses on five segments of the sports business that can extend themselves into more general markets: media, sports gambling, health and wellness, Web3 (a blockchain-driven internet), and the creator economy where athletes play a central part. “What feels like an inflexible thesis is actually super-flexible,” said Kacyvenski, who played for eight years in the NFL.
The new fund is triple the size of the first fund, in part because many of those categories are being proven out as viable investment areas, drawing more interest from larger investors.
“Our backers are primarily institutional capital, so endowments, foundations—very long-term, stable capital with a very high bar for investment. I think that makes us the only early stage fund in this space with institutional capital,” Brian Reilly, Will Ventures’ other co-founder and managing director, said in a phone call. “We’ve also got 17 professional sports team owners, which are obviously very strategic for the markets we invest in.”
Investors in the new fund also include other VC and private equity firm executives, entrepreneurs and athletes, though names aren’t being disclosed, Reilly said. Combined with a few special-purpose vehicles the firm has assembled, it now has $215 million in assets under management.
Though Harvard graduates and alumni of its football team, Kacyvenski and Reilly didn’t meet until they were both working last decade at MC10, a wearable technology company that sold its products to athletes as well as the chronically ill. The experience gave them early insight into the ways sports-focused products could expand beyond athletics. The pair later were part of the founding of the Sports Innovation Lab.
“We saw how sports could be such an interesting proving ground for new technologies and products,” Reilly said. “More broadly, the changes that were happening in health, wellness and health care were being proven out by elite athletes whose body is their business and who are logical early adopters.”
Will Ventures is finding athletes a receptive audience to its investment thesis, too. Earlier this year the firm inked a deal with OneTeam, the athlete intellectual property business founded by the players associations of MLB and NFL athletes. The two organizations have an exclusive partnership where OneTeam can suggest deals to the fund, in return for a slice of the financial upside, and Will Ventures can offer its portfolio businesses access to the group marketing and license deals OneTeam can provide.
With today’s announcement of the new fund, Reilly and Kacyvenski have also brought on a new partner, Ben Gardner, who spent the past five years as a partner as Silicon Valley VC shop Andreessen Horowitz, leading its go-to-market consumer function. It’s a role the former NFL veteran will also be doing for Will Ventures. While at Andreessen, Gardner was a strategic advisor to its portfolio companies including Substack, Instacart and Dapper Labs. He also built and managed that firm’s network of influencers across sports, media and other sectors.
“We feel fortunate that the verticals we care most about are maturing, our team has progressed, and we’ve executed on some key partnerships,” said Kacyvenski. “And now’s a great time to be investing, because things have gotten fundamentally cheaper over the past year.”