Q&A: RTP Ventures’ Jalak Jobanputra Weighs in on New $120M Fund

RTP Ventures, a $120 million fund in New York, which also has offices in Boston, brought in Jalak Jobanputra early this month as a managing director and a founding partner. RTP was founded last year by Moscow-based ru-Net, a $700 million technology and Internet investment company, to extend its investment activity to the United States.

Jobanputra previously was director of emerging mobile investments with Omidyar Network, which is a fund founded by eBay co-founder Pierre Omidyar. Jobanputra’s history in the New York innovation scene also extends back to the New York City Investment Fund, where she served as a senior vice president and managing investments in startups such as Outside.in and TxVia. She got her start in the venture world at Intel Capital in Silicon Valley.

Jobanputra spoke to Xconomy about joining RTP Ventures and the types of companies that catch her eye.

Xconomy: What drew you to work with RTP Ventures?

Jobanputra: I was looking at raising my own fund or joining a startup fund. I saw certain opportunities out there that weren’t being fully addressed by the existing venture market. One was this globalization trend that we’re seeing and the opportunity for cross-border ventures. There are companies here that could access markets outside of the U.S. Since the Internet is a global, open platform, there are companies that can launch their products and see traction in other countries, ranging from Brazil to India to the Middle East. They want to form strategies for those markets and could benefit from investors that have that global reach and expertise. The opportunity to join a team that is able to do that was very attractive to me. Having a fund of this size, $120 million, and access to the $700 million of ru-Net, allows the opportunity to invest in companies both at the early stage and support them through their growth, or to look at later-stage opportunities that can benefit from the expertise on the team.

X: Where did you find examples of startups that have grown by operating across borders and that embody what you are looking for?

J: Through my conversations with entrepreneurs that I have worked with and from traveling around the world. Last year I was director of emerging mobile investments at Omidyar Network. I was seeing what has happening in different markets, from Nairobi to Mumbai to Mexico City to Jakarta. I saw the innovation that is happening in these other regions, and realized there were opportunities to make connections between entrepreneurs here and in other regions and also access some of the talent that exists outside of the U.S.

X: You plan to focus on mobile, e-commerce, payments at RTP. What is happening in those sectors that you find exciting?

J: The theme crossing all of these areas is what’s happening in mobile—smartphones as well as tablets. Just as we saw [terrestrial] broadband Internet develop, we’re seeing development on the mobile side at a more accelerated pace. Mobile phones and tablets have turned into mini computers and payments engines and commerce engines. I’ll be looking for opportunities that leverage or create applications and infrastructure that support that thesis. We’re in the very early stages of seeing what these mobile devices are going to be doing for us. I’m thinking across advertising, banking, and payments, and content consumption. That is of particular interest to me. Mobile is spurring the intersection of the online and offline worlds. That goes across social networks as well as retail and commerce. That’s an area that I’m tracking closely. Healthcare and education are areas I’ve invested in the past that we’re looking at.

X: Are there any specific innovations or technologies that have stood out and helped evolve these segments?

J: If you look at smartphones and tablets, what Apple has done creating a very user-friendly interface coupled with higher bandwidth allows for easier data consumption on these devices. That’s been key. As smartphones become more ubiquitous around the world, we’re going to see similar consumption patterns around different types of applications. Looking at the offline and online intersection, it’s a realization on the part of many bricks-and-mortar businesses and industries that technology is now ubiquitous. All media is digital now or should be digital now. You’re seeing the breakdown of those delineations. That’s creating an awareness and desire to experiment more with new technology around digital.

X: Where will you look, geographically speaking, for investment opportunities?

J: I’ve certainly spent a lot of time in New York over the years. What’s happening there right now in terms of the tech startup community is extremely exciting in terms of the energy and support from all different sectors including government and larger industries such as real estate. It’s making it a great environment to start company right now in technology. I definitely will be looking very deeply in New York. I view New York as this great test bed for new technology because of the diversity the city provides, it has many different industries, many different types of people what live in a small geographic area. Beyond New York, you can never ignore Silicon Valley. That’s also where I spent much time and lived for many years. We can help entrepreneurs access customers and business development partners. We’re seeing quite a bit of entrepreneurial activity throughout the United States. We’re not going to limit it to those regions. We’ll opportunistically look at entrepreneurs throughout the country and expand the footprint outside of the U.S. if it makes sense to do so.

X: What kind of influence do the larger companies like AOL, Facebook, and Google, have on the New York innovation scene?

J: It provides benefits to the startup community on many levels. One is because of the number of talented people they are employing locally or bringing to New York, what we’ve seen happen in Silicon Valley and Seattle around Microsoft is a lot of these larger companies spawn startups. People work there, then after a certain time they leave and start their own companies. I see the presence of more companies in New York accelerating that process. They also help create a voice for the technology community. I think the presence of larger companies can influence policy decisions by sheer numbers and the size of the industry.

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