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Work--Bench announces $10 million fund to back enterprise startups

By Erin Griffith , written on December 3, 2013

From The News Desk

Work--Bench opened its doors in June as New York's first "post accelerator," a program designed to help later stage enterprise startups -- ones with funding, a product, and early traction -- connect with large corporate customers. Now it has $10 million to back enterprise companies of its own.

Work--Bench's first cohort of companies presented today in a "sell day," which is a low-key version of a demo day where companies pitch enterprise customers instead of investors. There was no music, or dramatic reveals, or heartfelt advisor introductions. It was your basic sales pitch.

Dwolla, Layervault, Mortar Data, Trapezoid, Moneao and Pymetrics presented. Adcade, which is also part of the program, did not present but will at a future sell day. These companies are all later stage -- Dwolla raised a Series C round of funding before even joining.

The program, backed by the 149-year-old printing business RR Donnelley, started with its office space: the 32,000-square-foot Union Square office has a seven-year lease. RR Donelley is in this for the long haul. Work--Bench members don't have to give up equity or take investment. They pay a susidized per-desk price for the office space and, in turn, they get access to RR Donnelley’s entire rolodex. This all backs up Work--Bench's plan to help corporations work better with innovative startups.

Now, with its $10 million fund, Work--Bench will be able to invest in the companies as well. RR Donnelley is the sole limited partner in the vehicle, but Work--Bench venture director Jonathan Lehr says the fund is not a corporate VC arm. "They gave us space and a $10 million fund and they're saying, 'Grow the ecosystem and help us understand trends in enterprise.'"

Work--Bench has already invested in three of the companies from its first cohort: Trapezoid, an IT infrastructure, security and compliance company; True Office, an organizational training program, and Layervault, a version control tool for designers.

Companies don't have to participate in Work--Bench in order to get an investment, but Work--Bench offers portfolio companies the same resources -- office space, programming, mentors and the RR Donnelley rolodex -- that cohort companies get. Likewise, many cohort companies will not take on investment from Work--Bench. It's a flexible situation.

The fund will do around 10 enterprise deals next year between $250,000 and $1 million. Work--Bench will not lead deals, and its sweet spot will be co-investing around $350,000 to $500,000 in Series A rounds, Lehr says.

Lehr and Rachel Shannon Solomon, (ex-Metamorphic Ventures) will lead the investments. Work--Bench also announced the hiring of Cameron Campbell, who previously did business development for the corporate venture arm of Intel.

With its first cohort done, Work--Bench is not wasting any time. (A six-month program means there isn't much breathing room between cohorts.) The program is already accepting applications and recruiting startups for its second class. That'll kick off in January.

Image via Work--Bench