Omri Casspi is one of Israel's greatest basketball players and was the one who broke a serious glass ceiling for Israeli talent - as the first Israeli in the NBA. Since then, he has managed to return to Israel and retire, maintain a popular podcast (which won Geektime’s new podcast award in 2020), and yesterday (Monday) he announced a new venture capital fund through which he will invest in Israeli startups.
$50 million for young startups
Casspi is a friend of the venture capitalist David Citron and the two established Sheva, a $50 million fund designed to invest in young startups - in the pre-seed and seed stages, and in some cases also in Series A rounds. The fund is expected to invest in 20 companies with an allotment ranging from 1-2 $million per venture. The fund has already invested in three projects that have not yet been released when it initially closed in March. The name of the foundation is Casspi's shirt number for Maccabi Tel Aviv - the team where he started and hung his shoes at the end of his career.
In a conversation with Geektime, Citron told us that the fund will invest in startups in a variety of fields and is focusing on projects in the fields of SaaS, cyber, fintech, and B2C companies for the wider market. When asked if the fund is sports-tech-oriented given Casspi's background, Citron says that "we have no intention of being focused on sports-tech over other verticals, because the field is not big enough and has not grown particularly large companies. That would be great, but as of now there is no preference. "
Casspi and Citron say that the fund is initially intended for Israeli entrepreneurs who have set up startups - whether in Israel or abroad - but the fund does not rule out investing in non-Israeli founders. Casspi tells us that the fund is open to investments outside the Israeli ecosystem, to make sure they won’t miss out on investing in a huge non-Israeli venture - like Airbnb for example. However, he emphasizes that "our focus is on the Israeli startup industry, whether the venture is set up in Israelis, either in Israel or in other countries."
Catfish attempt or a real offer to raise a fund?
The story behind Sheva’s establishment is quite amusing. Sure, Casspi and Citron did connect about a year and a half ago, and today run a fund together of tens of millions of dollars - but the beginning was a little more "interesting", to say the least. Citron says that when Casspi returned to Israel, he approached him - but he thought that it was someone who was trying to trick him.
"Omri contacted me via LinkedIn- we had no prior acquaintance and at first I thought I was being catfished. Although I am a die-hard Hapoel Jerusalem fan, when we had our initial conversation, we realized that there was real potential for cooperation," says Citron about the first interaction between the two.
Citron has years of experience in the venture capital industry and previously served as a partner in Europe's Global Founders Capital before which he was a principal in America's Flint Capital Fund. Casspi is also no stranger to the field and has invested as an angel in several Israeli startups - including Marius Nacht’s DayTwo startup. In the past, he also managed to invest in America's DocuSign, which later went public on NASDAQ. Casspi tells us that his portfolio as an investor is separate from that of Sheva, but he does not rule out continued investments in startups in which he previously invested in through the new fund.
The Kobe Bryant model
Casspi is among some great basketball players who ended their careers and decided to take some of the money they earned and turn it into more money - by investing in startups. One of the best-known players to do so, was Kobe Bryant - who co-founded Bryant-Stibel with serial entrepreneur and scientist Jeff Stibel. Bryant managed to invest before his untimely death in 2020 in several successful ventures, such as Tile, Epic Games, LegalZoom, and the gaming company Scopely; other active NBA players who are recognized as angel investors in startups are players such as Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Steph Curry, and Kyle Lowry.