In a February restructuring, Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria shuttered its $100 million BBVA Ventures arm and relaunched it as a stand-alone spin-off, Propel Venture Partners. Its not your typical corporate venture fund, says Jay Reinemann, who led BBVA Ventures as the parent banks executive director of strategy and corporate development and is one of three partners at San Franciscobased Propel. (The other partners, Ryan Gilbert and Thomas Whiteaker, also made the transition from BBVA Ventures.) Motivating the change were U.S. regulatory limits on bank investment positions. As an independent firm, Propel can make seed investments and go north of 5 percent in any financing round. Its sweet spot: Series A and Series B participations of $5 million to $15 million. Were trying to lead investments instead of just being a follower, says Reinemann, 47, who joined BBVA in 2011 and formerly headed Visas corporate ventures and strategic alliances group. Weve got a brand-new fund, and were actively hunting. Propel made its first lead investment in July: a $7 million Series A round for Burlingame, Californiabased 401(k) platform Guideline Technologies. In August, Propel participated in a $4.5 million seed round for San Franciscos Brave Software, which has developed a web browser with a built-in Bitcoin-based micropayment system. There were three other seed financings earlier in the year: online car dealer Drive Motors, home insurer Hippo, and identity-theft protection system Civic Technologies. At the time of Propels launch, BBVA allocated an additional $150 million, which will be directed toward European opportunities through a London office expected to open late this year. Reinemann says Propel, currently with seven employees, is actively hiring and aims to close five to ten new investments a year. Weve seen our deal flow more than double since we launched, he says.
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