Suns Guard Nash Drives Into VC

Each summer, advertising firm Deutsch Inc. has dozens of interns scurrying around its Manhattan offices. Most are in their early 20s, unpaid and relatively new to climbing the career ladder.

But two years ago, the group of wide-eyed interns included a 34-year-old whose bank account would likely dwarf that of firm boss Donny Deutsch.

That intern was basketball star Steve Nash, point guard for the Phoenix Suns and who was already a two-time league MVP. His boss that summer was Mike Duda, Deutsch’s chief strategy officer. The pair kept in touch after the internship ended—including work on an annual charity event—and late last year began discussing the creation of a new type of firm, a hybrid effort that would meld brand consulting with venture capital.

The result is Consigliere, a New York-based firm that has been meeting with potential investors and partners for the past several months. It hopes to raise a debut fund of $20 million.

“There are a lot of guys who finish playing and then have no idea what to do with themselves,” Nash told VCJ affiliate publication peHUB.com. “I’m not done yet, but when I am, I do not want to become one of them.”

Consigliere plans to invest in seed stage, consumer-oriented companies with “scalable, large-growth brand potential.” It also will do select Series A and Series B deals, and occasionally sign on as a strategic partner for larger transactions. Those latter deals are designed, in part, to help forge partnerships with large brands that can help Consigliere’s younger investments.

The firm will invest in consumer sectors such as ecommerce, sports, durables and performance categories.

“A lot of VC firms are extremely good at identifying the next great technology or entrepreneur, but don’t necessarily have great networks when it comes to building brand for consumer-focused startups,” Duda says. “That’s what we’re offering, and we really plan to be a partner to the VC community rather than just a new competitor.”

Duda is slowly transitioning out of Deutsch, reportedly on amicable terms.

Little information is known about how or from whom Consigliere will raise the fund. But Donny Deutsch is among those who are expected to invest in the debut fund.

There are a lot of guys who finish playing and then have no idea what to do with themselves. I’m not done yet, but when I am, I do not want to become one of them.

Steve Nash

Nash isn’t new to business. He owns Meathawk, a film-production company that produced creative projects for Vitamin Water and Nike, and he has a stake in the Major League Soccer-bound Vancouver Whitecaps. Nash also owns a chain of gyms (Steve Nash Fitness World), a vitamin company (One Bode) and a social-media company (Apoko), which aims to help celebrities and athletes better connect with their fans on Facebook and Twitter.

With Consigliere, “it appeared there was a great opportunity to construct something new” in the marketing space, Nash told AdAge.com. “To have an agency background and capabilities and merge that with private equity makes a lot of sense.”

AdAge.com also talked to Kent Goldman, a principal in the San Francisco-based office at First Round Capital, who has met with Duda and Nash. Goldman said that he expects to reach out to Consigliere for potential business partnerships, thanks to Duda’s understanding of branding in the consumer sector.

“I don’t want to downplay the importance of having good technology, but we’re moving to a world where tech is moving more and more to commodity infrastructure, and what distinguishes these companies is how they distinguish their brand,” Goldman told AdAge.com.

Nash isn’t the first professional athlete to try his hand at private equity and it’s unlikely he’ll be the last. John Hummer spent six years in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls and Seattle Supersonics before co-founding Hummer Winblad Venture Partners with Ann Winblad. And David Robinson co-founded private equity firm Admiral Capital Group after 14 years with the San Antonio Spurs.

But former basketball players are outnumbered in the PE industry by former football players. Remember Champion Ventures, a fund of funds founded for former San Francisco 49ers Ronnie Lott and Harris Barton? (Champion later changed its name to HRJ Capital and was taken over last year by Switzerland’s Capital Dynamics after it ran into financial difficulties.)

Then there’s former 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who previously co-founded Sorenson Capital and is now a managing director at private equity firm Huntsman Gay Global Capital. Young helped Huntsman raise a debut fund of $1.1 billion last year.

Another former quarterback, Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots, now runs PE firm Bledsoe Capital Group and closed his first deal last year, investing $10 million into Ecosphere Technologies (OTC BB: ESPH), a water treatment company.

There’s at least one example of a football player who went to the PE industry and has since returned to the gridiron: Billy Cundiff, who played four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and is best known for kicking a record seven field goals in one game against the New York Giants on Sept. 15, 2003. Cundiff last year joined Pacific Southwest Ventures as an associate soon after he earned an MBA from Arizona State University, but Cundiff is now kicking again for the Baltimore Ravens.

Lawrence Aragon and Alastair Goldfisher contributed to this story