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San Francisco 49ers Owners Are Deep Into Venture Capital

  • Aurum Partners says its investments would rank it in the top decile of all venture capital funds.
  • The fund has made successful exits from giants like Allbirds, Dropbox, and FanDuel.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re not familiar with the San Francisco 49ers ownership structure, I’ll give you a quick rundown. The team is owned by 49ers Enterprises — Denise DeBartolo York and John York are co-chairs and their son Jed York is CEO.

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

As the team strives to hoist the Lombardi trophy again, Aurum Partners — the York family’s venture capital fund affiliated with the 49ers — has quietly invested in around 40 companies. 

A Family Affair

Brano Perkovich, the 49ers’ Chief Investment Officer and Aurum’s general managing partner, describes the fund as “a direct investing arm focused on private equity of the family office.”

While Aurum, founded in 2014, doesn’t disclose financials, the company says its investments would rank it in the top decile of all venture capital funds based on performance to date.

“The fund, and I use the term fund loosely, doesn’t have any outside capital or limited liability partnerships,” Perkovich explained.

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

Grand Exits

Aurum’s investments range from Squire, a barber shop operations platform, to GreenPark, a sports multiverse product. The fund is more than a family side hustle.

  • 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 in a Series B round, also in 2015. The company was valued at $9.5 billion in August 2021.
  • Other businesses Aurum is currently invested in include youth sports broadcaster BallerTV, Carrot Fertility, AI platform Satisfi Labs, and tech company Thrive Global.

Aurum has made successful exits from a number of other companies.

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

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

Investment Thesis

Aurum is stage and industry-agnostic in its investments.

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

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

“The value that we bring to the table has to be above and beyond just writing a check. If companies are coming to us with the sole expectation that we would provide capital and be passive investors, that’s not a situation we want to be a part of.”

The companies in Aurum’s portfolio are able to 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 call on other teams, other organizations, whether that’s in our league or others, and provide certain solutions,” Perkovich said.

What’s Next?

Historically, Aurum has made around 6-8 investments annually.

“$250,000 is probably the minimum or lower end of what we’d do,” Perkovich said regarding the fund’s bar for entry level investments. “We like to be able to follow up, and that number is a nice sweet spot that we feel like we have skin in the game.”

The fund remains on the hunt for more investment opportunities, despite the recent downturn in the market. There’s the thought that these circumstances may very well even accelerate innovation in the spaces where Aurum is looking to invest.

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

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