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Exclusive: Billionaire Penny Pritzker Joins Forces With Alexa von Tobel to Raise New $200M Fund

February 8, 2019, 11:59 AM UTC
Obama administration Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker says there is work in the future—we just need to adapt.
034 Tuesday, September 25, 2018 Fortune Brainstorm Reinvent Chicago, IL, USA 2:00 PM THE WORK AHEAD The future of work is here, with smart machines and new technologies transforming how people do their jobs. The disruption has been crippling for many American workers and the need is dire for government, businesses, NGOs, and educators to step in. How can we create more inclusive economic growth and ensure our workforce has the necessary skills for the jobs of tomorrow? Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker—who co-chaired a bipartisan task force “The Work Ahead”—will discuss ways the U.S. can rebuild the links between work, opportunity, and economic security. The Hon. Penny Pritzker, Founder and Chairman, PSP Partners; 38th U.S. Secretary of Commerce Interviewer: Beth Kowitt, Fortune Photograph by Stuart Isett/Fortune
Stuart Isett—Fortune

In January, SEC filings revealed that LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel will raise $200 million for a new early-stage venture capital fund called Inspired Capital Partners. Now, a source familiar with the nascent fund tells Fortune that billionaire businesswoman Penny Pritzker will join the venture as a founding partner. Both von Tobel and Pritzker declined to comment, citing SEC regulations.

Pritzker, whose family is behind the Hyatt Hotels chain, is the founder and chairman of investment firm PSP Partners. PSP has approximately 70 employees, and it deploys capital into real estate, mature private companies, and other investment funds.

But recently, she’s taken more of an interest in startups and added a venture capital arm to the firm called PSP Growth, which focuses on investing in fast-growing tech businesses. Its portfolio companies include Beachfront Media, a mobile-advertising platform; House Canary, a real estate analytics and valuation firm; and Measure, a drone inspection-services provider.

“I’ve always had an interest in innovation,” Pritzker told Crain’s Chicago Business in 2018. “I decided (technology) would become an area of focus for me after my time at the [U.S. Department of] Commerce. I’m a nerd at heart. Tech is affecting every aspect of our economy. My approach is to jump in with both feet.”

The duo met when Pritzker served as the U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration. Von Tobel was a member of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship, which was a collaboration between entrepreneurs and the White House. The pair took a trip together to Morocco on behalf of the White House and discovered they shared a passion for building companies, according to the source.

Von Tobel and Pritzker both have operating backgrounds.

Von Tobel founded LearnVest in 2008, which is a financial planning service platform. Northwest Mutual acquired the startup in 2015 for $350 million. Von Tobel then joined Northwestern Mutual as the chief innovation officer and left in January to pursue her next act as a venture capitalist.

Pritzker founded Vi Senior Living (formerly known as Classic Residence by Hyatt) and co-founded an off airport parking company called The Parking Spot. She also sits on the boards of Microsoft and The Harvard Corporation.

It’s unclear what types of companies Inspired Capital Partners will back, but based on Von Tobel’s angel investments, it’s likely the firm will focus on startups within the financial technology sector.