“The maturity of founders is just exponentially better and different from when we started in ‘07,” says Seedcamp co-founder and Managing Partner Reshma Sohoni. “[They are] so much more knowledgeable, so much more practiced in the art of starting up”.
I’m on a conference call with Sohoni, Seedcamp’s other Managing Partner Carlos Espinal, and three additional members of the Seecamp team. All are sounding buoyant, and perhaps with every reason to be so. The London-based VC firm recently sold its first two funds to Draper Esprit, and today is announcing the first close of a new £41 million fund, double the size of its last. This year the VC is also celebrating its 10 year anniversary.
Yes, a whole decade has passed since Seedcamp launched what was then the first pan-European accelerator, at times almost singlehandedly dragging the disparate European startup community into the same room. In those ten years, the pre-seed and seed investor has backed over 250 early-stage companies, most notably TransferWise, and has seen 22 exits in total. The Seedcamp model has also had to iterate considerably as the ecosystem has grown up around it.
“While what we were offering worked well with the ambitions of ten years ago, you have to evolve your offering to meet the ambitions of today,” says Sohoni.
No longer an accelerator, applications for pre-seed funding are accepted on a rolling basis. With this fourth fund, Seedcamp will be writing bigger cheques, too. It will invest £100,000 into startups at pre-seed stage and can anchor a round of up to £250,000 as it brings in other angel investors.
At seed stage, Seedcamp will now invest up to £400,000 in rounds of up to £2 million as part of a syndicate where there is already a lead investor. A significant pot of capital is also earmarked for follow-on rounds up to Series B, as the pan-European firm looks to have a bigger stake in the game.
“Everything we’ve built up has been around getting a company from that first round of funding to that very, very strong next round,” explains Seedcamp Investment Partner Tom Wilson. “By unlocking a slightly larger cheque at the very, very earliest stage, we think it will allow the companies to get to that next round in an even stronger position”.
The maturity of the wider investor landscape has also changed over the years, notes Espinal, not least in how investors seek out startups right across the continent. “When Seedcamp started 10 years ago we were bringing together the community for the first time across Europe. And over the years so much has changed,” he says. “We have these huge events now — Web Summit, Slush, TechCrunch Disrupt. That means we are now tapping into more mature networks of angels and investors in all different geographies.”
That is perhaps reflected in the list of Seedcamp’s LPs for ‘Fund IV’. The U.K. government-backed British Business Bank is the anchor LP, and is joined by the likes of MassMutual Ventures, Investec, Thomas Cook Money, Index Ventures, Atomico, Idinvest Partners, ADV, Draper Esprit, SpeedInvest, and Underscore Ventures. In total, the list comprises 60 corporates, VC firms, and ‘fund of funds’.
In addition, Seecamp has seen first-hand how the infrastructure in Europe for startups has matured, including Europe’s understanding of what it takes to make a successful company. “That means we’re bringing these bits together more and more instead of having to create them ourselves. We see that even in geographies we’ve invested in. We were the first to invest in Portugal, for example, and now that’s a blossoming ecosystem. We’ve done that for Estonia. So much has changed and as a consequence we’ve evolved with it,” adds Espinal.
Of course, competition among investors has also increased exponentially, even if the number and quality of entrepreneurs has arguably kept up. I wonder out loud how Seedcamp positions itself now it is far from the only value-add European investor at the pre-seed and seed stage.
“I think one of the main benefits with Seedcamp is our network: the fact that we’ve invested in over 250 companies over 10 years,” says Wilson. “For the founders we work with, access and tapping into that network has been hugely, hugely valuable for them as they’re sharing experiences. We feel that’s an unfair advantage which any founder gets by receiving investment from Seedcamp”.
Sohoni goes even further, arguing that Seedcamp is a “startup economy” in its own right, in which portfolio companies can find their first users and customers amongst each other. “We are literally a functioning economy… with 250 and adding another 100 companies over the next 2-3 years,” she says. “Whether on the B2C side, they’re often the first 500 or 1,000 users, or on the B2B side, the first 10 or 20 or 50 customers, and they unlock an even greater economy of startups that are in our LPs’ portfolios. Getting that privileged access to this startup economy is unrivalled”.
Seecamp isn’t standing still, however, and there are no obvious signs of complacency. As it continues to hunt Europe for the best early-stage tech entrepreneurs, it isn’t being shy of new places or ways to invest in them. This — in what is bound to grab headlines — includes getting permission from LPs to invest in crypto tokens.
“It’s clear the community is really keen on using tokens as a way of fundraising and we’re just getting ahead of the game,” says Espinal. “I think we are the only LP/GP fund that has explicit permission to invest in crypto and tokens and we want to use that as a mechanism to back the next generation of decentralised companies”.
That, I propose, sounds fraught with risk, given that we seem to be in somewhat of a crypto bubble, including a number of alleged scams, and it is far from clear what makes a successful Initial Coin Offering, either from an investment or company point of view. The Seedcamp General Partner bats away my scepticism and says it’s important to separate coin investments that are currently grabbing headlines with the investment structure itself.
“For us as investors, what we need to be mindful of is separating opportunities with structures that benefit companies. We’re going to be having a keen eye on things that match our investment criteria but we’re going to be very open to any structure that is cutting edge if it benefits the company and gives us a return,” he says.