Nico Berardi considers himself to be a citizen of the world, with a penchant for travel and a wide range of interests. Unlike many other VCs, who’ve increasingly specialized as the market has grown more crowded, Berardi is nearly as wide-ranging in his approach to venture capital, too.
Somewhat counterintuitively, it’s paying off. At least, Berardi’s venture firm, Animo Ventures, has been investing a $60 million debut vehicle since closing it in July of last year.
It’s an impressive, surprising, amount for someone raising a fund for the first time, but then, Berardi’s trajectory into the world of venture capital hasn’t been completely straightforward, either. To wit, Berardi grew up in Argentina, where his professional life began at a community-focused nonprofit Techo, a kind of Habitat for Humanity focused on Latin America. He was so good at his development job, in fact, that he was moved to Miami as the CEO of Techo’s U.S operations.
It was there, over his six year career with the organization, that he was first introduced to the world of investing. Specifically, encouraged by several board members who were angel investors — and aided by some backing from the Knight Foundation — Berardi left the nonprofit world in 2014 to launch a still-active angel investor group called Miami Angels that funnels around $3.5 million into roughly 10 local companies each year.
In quick succession, he then applied to and was accepted into the tuition-based Kauffman Fellows Program, fell in love with a medical student in Boston, and headed to Harvard Business School to be closer to her, spending his summers with the Boston and San Francisco-based early-stage venture firm Resolute Ventures.
He imagined he’d land in San Francisco afterward, to work with Resolute. But when that medical student — now his wife — wound up landing a job back in Miami, he headed there instead and decided to launch his own venture firm. Enter Animo, a Latin word that means with intention or purpose and also, notes Bernardi, “sounds international.”
The latter matters because while Berardi is the sole general partner of the firm, he’s running it with two colleagues, neither of whom lives in the U.S. One of these is partner Antonio Osio, a native Mexican who was running his own firm, Capital Invent, when he first met Berardi through Kauffman Fellows. (“I poached him,” says Berardi.) They also have an operations partner in Caro Acevedo, who worked with Berardi as his COO at Techo and who still lives in Argentina.
As for the money, Berardi says it “mostly comes from Latin America and Europe,” including from anchor investor Techint. It’s a 60,000-person Argentine conglomerate that owns steel, construction, oil, gas, and healthcare businesses around the world and whose CEO, Paulo Rocco, sees Animo as a way to put the company’s resources into new materials sciences, manufacturing technology, and machine learning startups, says Berardi.
“We want to make a dent in the universe, and there aren’t a lot of Latinx investors around and we want to carry that flag,” he offers.
To date, Animo has announced 12 deals, all in the U.S., including six investments in New York and six others in other places, including Scottsdale, Az.; Toronto, Ontario; Miami; and Richmond, Va.
Notably, Animo does not have plans to invest in Latin American companies, though it has backed a number of Latin American founders in the U.S. “I think every investor has their own set of biases,” says Berardi. “Our diversity numbers point in that way, but it hasn’t been a conscious effort. That’s just who we are.” He suggests that a much bigger focus for the firm is using its connections in “tier one ecosystems” like San Francisco and New York to “help [founders] outside the bubble enter it.”
Berardi does say there are a few things Animo won’t consider. “We stay away from FDA-regulated stuff because we don’t understand it well enough and therefore can’t be useful.” Mostly, however, he’s open to anyone and everyone who appreciates hard work, he suggests. “We’re younger, we’re hungry. We work 100-hour weeks and travel like crazy people.”
To underscore his point, Berardi tells a story about Intello, a SaaS operations platform that helps companies manage their SaaS spend, usage and compliance data and an Animo portfolio company. The startup had rented a booth at a conference organized by Okta, the publicly traded identity and access management company. “They didn’t have enough people to man the booth,” says Berardi, “and I was in town, so I was like, ‘I’ll man the booth with you in a cloud suit.’ They thought I was joking and I made an idiot of myself, but it drew a lot of people to the booth.”
Pictured above from left to right, Animo founders Nico Berardi, Caro Acevedo, and Antonio Osio.