WME Launching Venture Capital Fund (Exclusive)

Ari Emanuel Patrick Whitesell Split - H 2015
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Ari Emanuel Patrick Whitesell Split - H 2015

The agency is seeking to raise what one source says is around $150 million as part of a startup strategy, joining CAA and UTA in emphasizing diversification.

A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Ari Emanuel's kingdom isn't quite big enough. The WME co-CEO and partner Patrick Whitesell are launching a venture capital fund, sources tell THR, and hiring a full-time manager to run it.

The move to raise what a source pegs at about $150 million would allow WME, which is majority owned by private-equity fund Silver Lake (which together gobbled up sports and fashion behemoth IMG for $2.3 billion in early 2014), to formalize its startup-backing strategy and create a designated pool from which to invest. A WME rep declined to comment about the new fund.

WME has been making startup investments over the last several years guided by the leadership of digital head Dan Porter, the former CEO of mobile gaming company Omgpop. Investments coming out of WME Ventures during the past few years include Uber, reservations app Reserve, valet parking company Luxe and live broadcasting app Meerkat.

In addition to signing hot startups to help them navigate Hollywood, tal­ent agencies have in recent years placed an emphasis on investing or incubating companies to diversify their portfolios. These investments often come with the promise of helping connect the startups with the agency's talent roster.

CAA Ventures, CAA's investment arm run by Michael Yanover, has backed startups including dating app Hinge and social network Whisper and helped to incubate Funny or Die and WhoSay. And UTA's digital division, led by Brent Weinstein, hired Robyn Ward in 2013 to lead its new-media ventures arm, which has put money into digital media firm Woven and discovery app Tapiture, among others.  

Hollywood has had its eye on tech investing for a number of years with mixed results. In 2007, CAA and Draper Fisher Jurvetson sought to raise up to $200 million for early-stage investments but the plan was eventually scrapped. WME predecessor William Morris Agency also was keen on the startup space, partnering with AT&T and Silicon Valley VCs Accel Partners and Venrock in 2008 to create The Mail Room Fund. That effort was shut down after only a handful of investments.

Aug. 26, 5:51 p.m. Updated to clarify Silver Lake's relationship to the new fund.