New Enterprise Associates, a venture firm with offices in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and New York, has led a $11.1 million pre-seed round for Brale, a cryptocurrency startup in Iowa that plans to integrate CeFi and DeFi, or centralized and decentralized finance. Angel investors in the round included Cloudflare co-founder and CEO Matthew Prince, and Albert Wenger, managing director at New York-based Union Square Ventures.
Subsequent to the funding, NEA managing general partner Scott Sandell will join Brale’s board. Sandell, a 27-year NEA veteran and former Microsoft executive, has been an integral part of NEA’s blockbuster investments such as Bloom Energy, Cloudflare, Data Domain, Robinhood, Salesforce and WebEx. Over the years, he has headed the firm’s technology practice and led its China investing activities. He is one of only four investors who has been named to the Forbes Midas List every year since 2007.
Alex Sharata, a senior associate, also oversaw NEA’s investment in Brale. A former Morgan Stanley executive, Sharata was a co-founder of mobile app security firm Fractal, which was acquired by Sunayu in 2017. Prior to joining NEA, he was with Vista Equity Partners, focusing on enterprise software, data, tech-enabled services and payments companies. At NEA, Sharata focuses on web3 startups. Besides Brale, he is involved with portfolio firms Block Renovation, Bonfire, Datafold and others.
Over $20 Billion Committed
Since its founding in 1977, NEA has invested more than $20 billion in committed capital across 16 funds, including a $3.3 billion fund that closed in 2017. It typically invests in technology and healthcare companies at varied stages of growth. Its portfolio firms, such as Robinhood Markets and Salesforce, have gone on to complete more than 260 IPOs and more than 440 mergers and acquisitions.
Over the past few years, the firm’s activity in Europe has surged, even though it has invested in the continent’s technology and healthcare companies all through its 45-year history. Last year, it named Philip Chopin, who at 83North oversaw two portfolio investments that turned into unicorns, as its first European partner. Today, it has over three dozen portfolio investments in 11 European countries, with “concentrated activity” in the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Switzerland. About a third of NEA’s investments in Europe has come in the last five years.
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Brale, based in Des Moines, Iowa, will use the pre-seed funding for research and development, and to meet regulatory requirements in the United States. It is led by founder and CEO Ben Milne, a specialist in digital money transfers and previously the founder of digital payment network Dwolla. Also the co-founder of Basis Theory, Milne holds five patents on digital money transfers, including a couple on payments via social networks.
Albert Wenger, a managing partner at New York-based Union Square, made the investment in Brale in his personal capacity. Wenger, who joined Union Square as a venture partner in 2006, has led Union Square’s investment in Twilio, MongoDB, Behance (acquired by Adobe), Firebase (acquired by Google) and ecommerce marketplace Etsy, where he was also an angel investor. He holds a PhD in Information Technology from MIT and a BA degree in Economics from Harvard University.