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Azul investor removes invisibility cloak

How many Poles does it take to form a VC?

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When Java server appliance maker Azul Systems announced a new round of funding last month, one investor caught our attention - JVax Investment Group.

JVax stood out for a couple of reasons. First off, it was the lone new investor to pad Azul's funding round. We had documented Azul's struggles in closing this funding round and were, quite frankly, surprised that a new body was willing to pony up some cash. Securing a new investor added muscle to Azul's cash collection and countered some of the pessimism surrounding the company.

JVax, however, also jumped out from the investor list because we couldn't find any public information about the company. It did not appear to have any prior investments in technology companies - or companies period.

We pushed Azul for more information on JVax and were initially rebuffed. The only thing Azul would say is that "JVaxIG is a European-based venture fund whose focus is investing in companies which have significant potential in Europe."

Do you have any contact information for the firm? "No."

We kept prodding, until Azul turned over some more facts.

As it turns out, the mysterious JVax is a private US company founded in 2007. It's focused on investing in companies that can sell goods to Poland, in particular, and then Central and Eastern Europe more broadly. The interest in Poland stems from the money man Jacek Waksmundzki - a fella with ownership positions in a number of Polish businesses and a significant player in the Polish real estate market, according to Azul.

The company has pumped $10m into Azul with an apparent pledge to invest $5m more. It also has investments in surveillance software maker VidSys and software start-up WorldIXI.

As it happens, one of Waksmundzki's companies - World IT Systems - "is a strategic sales partner of Azul Systems and other IT companies, and is actively involved in ramping up Azul’s sales efforts in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Middle East." So, the investment in Azul is quite self-serving.

Without doubt, Azul has major challenges. The company just laid off a large chunk of employees and has pared back research and development work as a result. In addition, CEO Stephen DeWitt is set to depart any day, according to our sources.

Beyond all that, Azul must convince people on a very new and somewhat weird concept. Its products rely on custom silicon that provides a dramatic speed-up to offloaded Java code.

Our stories on Azul have generated a healthy amount of feedback from customers. For the most part, people who have tried out the Azul hardware seem to love it.

With a bit of luck, Azul's $40m will buy it some time to sell existing gear and to keep spreading the word about its dreamy technology. This is never an easy game for a start-up, and we've seen plenty of hardware makers tear through tens of millions before folding. ®

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