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James Heckman
James Heckman

James Heckman is getting the band back together.

The Rivals.com founder and former Yahoo executive today announced the formation of theMaven Network, a new digital media company that will feature premium stories and video “across multiple content segments.” It is set to launch in the first quarter of 2017.

Heckman is well known in entrepreneurial circles, having previously founded the online sports network Rivals.com during the dot-com boom.

Rivals.com — which raised $70 million in venture capital and hit the wall during the dot-com bust — eventually sold to a Tennessee company which was then sold to Yahoo in 2007 for a reported purchase price of $100 million. That deal came well after Heckman had left to create Scout.com founded in 2001, a competitive site to Rivals.com. He then went on to start online advertising startup 5to1.com, selling that company to Yahoo in 2011. After that, he led global media strategy for Yahoo, working closely with Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn.

In fact, Levinsohn and Heckman are reuniting behind theMaven. Heckman is serving as CEO, and Levinsohn is joining the board.

There are some other familiar faces lining up at the new startup, including CTO Ben Joldersma, a former senior engineer at Google and former lead architect at Rivals.com, Scout.com and 5to1. The chief operating officer is Bill Sornsin, who previously co-founded Rivals.com and Scout.com with Heckman and before that was a senior technology executive at MSN.

“The collective knowledge and power of this team puts it in an enviable position day one,” said Levinsohn in a press release. “TheMaven team managed to develop a business plan, design a state of the art platform from scratch, secure funding and are on-boarding high quality publishers, all within 100 days of inception – this speaks to their passion, loyalty and commitment as a team.”

To date, Heckman tells GeekWire that he’s recruited about 20 employees for the new startup, which is operating from Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne neighborhood in 1,500 square feet of rented space. He was unavailable for further comment to address questions about content segments they plan to cover, and pricing.

But a SEC filing provides a few more clues about theMaven Network, which was founded in Nevada in July 2016 under the name Amplify Media.

The goal is to build “an exclusive network of professionally managed media channels and interest groups, each operated by a hand-selected group of experts, reporters, group evangelists and social leaders as ‘Channel Partners,'” the SEC filing says.

That’s quite similar to the approach of Rivals.com, which attempted to create an online network of niche content sites around sports teams.

Here’s more from the SEC filing:

Currently theMaven believes that there are dozens of competitors delivering niche media content on the web and on mobile devices. All those competitors use mobile alerts, invest heavily in video and leverage social media. theMaven, however, believe its team has developed distribution, production and technology tactics that have proven to be highly engaging and effective for its particular model, which organizes channels into interest groups, led by its expert partners – the “Channel Partners.”

The web provides unlimited access to the market by niche or general media companies, so there are a large number and variety of direct competitors of theMaven competing for audience and ad dollars. The general business of online media, combined with some level or method of leveraging community attracts many potential entrants, and in the future there may be strong competitors that will compete with theMaven in general or in selected markets. These and other companies may be better financed and be able to develop their markets more quickly and penetrate those market more effectively.

In an interesting move for a new startup, theMaven also announced that it has entered into an agreement to be acquired by Integrated Surgical Systems, a publicly-traded company that trades under the symbol ISSM and is backed by MDB Capital Group.

Integrated Surgical Systems was incorporated in 1990, and initially designed computer-controlled robotic software and hardware for use in orthopedic surgical procedures. In 2007, the company completed the sale of its assets and became “inactive,” and for a period of time was “no longer engaged in any business activities,” according to a description on its Web site. In 2011, the company acquired shares in ClearSign Combustion Corporation, an early-stage clean energy company that went public in 2012 at $4 per share under the ticker CLIR.

Integrated Surgical Systems is still publicly traded, and shares are now trading at about 45 cents. It is led by Christoper Marlett, the CEO of MDB Capital and a “long-time collaborator” of Heckman’s, according to today’s press release.

As part of the deal, Integrated is acquiring theMaven as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Shareholders of theMaven will then receive newly-issued shares in the combined company, representing about 55 pecent of the outstanding shares.

After the acquisition concludes, the company’s name will change to theMaven Network Inc. Even so, according to the SEC filing, Heckman also will be appointed as a director and CEO of Integrated at the time the transaction closes.

The deal is complex, and unusual for a startup company, but Heckman is confident it will pay off.

“Moving to become a public company so soon after inception is certainly bold, but it is consistent with our confidence in this team, the platform we are building, and the business plan we have fine-tuned and have dreamed about over the past two decades,” Heckman said in the release. “And the backing of MDB Capital gives us the confidence we will have the necessary resources to execute on our aggressive strategy. We always believed the model will work in other categories and recent events gave us the motivation to pursue this long-held idea. TheMaven will be our sixth venture together for much of this team.”

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