Black Ridge

Berman shifts from oil to California ‘e-sports’

Millionaire businessman and gambler Lyle Berman has folded his cards on the oil-and-gas business and moved into electronic sports, including “e-sports” gaming.

Berman’s publicly traded Black Ridge Acquisition Corp. ceased trading this month. A new company, Allied Esports Entertainment (AESE), started trading on Nasdaq last week. Activity has been underwhelming so far.

Allied Esports traded as high as $4.70 per share on Monday, before sliding to $3.50 to $4 per share later in the week.

Black Ridge paid $153.8 million to buy Allied Esports and World Poker Tour from Ourgame International of China, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

As part of the financing package, Black Ridge issued 11.6 million shares to the former owners of Allied Esports and World Poker at $11.50 per share.

Black Ridge also sold common stock to several investors valued at $18 million in private transactions.

The convoluted debt-and-equity deal was valued at more than $200 million by Thomson Reuters, when announced in December.

The CEO is Frank Ng, the former CEO of Ourgame.

Berman, 77, a championship poker player who became rich partly through Indian gambling contracts he gained with his former Grand Casinos management company 30 years ago, will remain a shareholder.

The combined company is based in Irvine, Calif.

Black Ridge Acquisition is a so-called “blank check company” that was formed by Berman in 2017 to pursue energy deals. Its primary holding until now was Black Ridge Oil & Gas, a 2010-vintage oil-and-gas company that never gained much traction in the energy fields of North Dakota as oil prices declined.

Berman, who lives in Las Vegas, announced the switched focus to gambling, his old haunt, last December.

“There are hundreds of millions of people who play e-sports on a regular basis throughout the world,” Berman said. “We think that it’s an emerging industry that has really got incredible growth potential and we are kind of in on the ground floor.”

Berman focused on the gambling industry after he sold family-owned Berman Buckskin in 1979.

Neal St. Anthony

venture capital

Rally Ventures named most active in Minn.

Rally Ventures has been named Minnesota’s most active venture-capital firm over five years.

CB Insights, which tracks venture investing said the Twin Cities-based firm has made six Minnesota investments since its inception in 2012. They include Minnesota-based Atavium, Foodsby, Parallax, SportsEngine, Total Expert and ZapInfo.

“We’re all about helping entrepreneurs accelerate their businesses by leveraging our experience as early-stage venture investors and bringing together the expertise of our Technology Partner network,” Jeff Hinck, co-founder and general partner of Rally Ventures, said in a prepared statement. “We take this mission to heart in … Minnesota. We … are excited to continue investing in this state’s exceptional tech talent.”

The sale of portfolio companies Twistlock and Verodin have been Rally’s most recent exits; it has had a total of four exits in 2019.

In July, Twistlock, a cybersecurity firm, was acquired by Palo Alto Networks for $410 million in cash.

In May, Rally sold its position in Verodin, a leader in cybersecurity control validation, was acquired in a cash-stock transaction valued at $250 million.

In 2013, Rally raised a $100 million fund that included investments from “technology partners” such as Piper Jaffray, 3M, Cargill, Google, Microsoft and Protolabs. Since its inception in 2012, Rally has invested in 43 early-stage companies.

Neal St. Anthony

food companies

General Mills hires former McDonald’s exec

General Mills has appointed Jano Cabrera, a former McDonald’s executive and communications operative for the Democratic Party, as its chief communications officer.

Cabrera is moving to the Twin Cities from Chicago, where McDonald’s is headquartered.

He replaces Mary Lynn Carver, who stepped down from the role in late May.

Cabrera spent more than three years at McDonald’s as senior vice president of corporate relations. Before that, he worked at global public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller for eight years. Cabrera built his career in politics, working in the White House as a spokesman for former Vice President Al Gore and later for the Democratic National Committee.

After leaving official political posts, Cabrera founded Carthage Group Communications, a public-relations firm that did work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Grameen Bank and America Votes, a progressive political-action group.

Kristen Painter