Meet the New Santa Barbara Venture Fund Eyeing Software Startups

Meet the New Santa Barbara Venture Fund Eyeing Software Startups

A new venture fund based up the 101 isn’t letting the current market slowdown curb its appetite for new software startups.

Santa Barbara Venture Partners has officially closed its first, $11 million investment fund, the company told dot.LA, with the primary goal of backing software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies based predominantly in Southern California.

The Santa Barbara-based firm was founded in 2020 by former tech entrepreneur Dan Engel, who said that he looks to invest in companies that can weather the storms of tumultuous capital markets. SBVP claims a strict set of criteria for its portfolio companies; Engel said it won’t invest unless a startup can prove it’s already conquered product-market fit and is generating at least $3 million in annual revenue, with an emphasis on companies with subscription-based revenue models and annual growth rates of at least 75%.

“We invest at a stage when product-market fit has already been figured out,” Engel told dot.LA. “We don't want to take that risk, because too many times it doesn't end up getting figured out, and an investor ends up with a goose-egg zero.”

The firm plans to invest in startups that are anywhere from the seed stage up to their Series D round, and which have the potential to deliver a 3x-to-6x return in at least a seven-year time span, Engel added.

“We try to invest in businesses that are really hard to screw up,” Engel noted, half-jokingly.

So far, SBVP has backed nine companies out of its debut fund with an average check size of about $850,000, according to Engel. The fund recently saw its first exit via San Diego-based nonprofit fundraising platform Classy, which raised $118 million in a Series D round last year before being acquired by GoFundMe this January.

While he’s cautious about backing companies that don’t have a clear track record of growth, Engel did say he’s optimistic about the current state of the tech startup environment despite increasingly sluggish market conditions. He noted particular optimism about SBVP’s chosen software market.

“Every time SaaS is down, it comes roaring back up,” Engel asserted. “It's got real advantages to it as an investment—such as having the ability to weather storms that others can’t, [like] much more capital-intensive businesses that don't have predictable recurring revenue.”

Still, there is at least one company in the SBVP portfolio that’s been directly affected by stagnating IPO markets—with Classy originally planning to go public before opting to shelve its Nasdaq ambitions

“The M&A market I don't think is too different at the moment; maybe multiples are down a little bit. The IPO market is certainly on hold at the moment, and that affects us too,” said Engel, who worked in customer acquisition and marketing for the likes of Google before co-founding Santa Barbara-based fintech software startup FastSpring. He also served as FastSpring’s CEO prior to its 2013 acquisition by L.A.-based investment firm Pylon Capital.

Other recent SBVP investments include Hydrosat, a satellite thermal imaging company that graduated from Techstars’ aerospace accelerator in Los Angeles; and Berkeley-based Voltaiq, which makes software to analyze the efficiency of electric vehicle batteries. The remaining investments from the new fund include Bark Technologies, Specright, Nice Healthcare, Jackpocket, Rad AI and Curri. Engel said over 70% of the fund is already invested, including via sidecar deals.
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Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.