Atomico, the London-based venture capital firm co-founded by Skype founder Niklas Zennström, has launched a new program to find, mentor and back the next generation of angel investors across various hubs in the European tech startup ecosystem.
Dubbed the Atomico Angel Programme, and unveiled on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, the new initiative is headed up by newly promoted Atomico Partner Sophia Bendz, with support from Associate Will Dufton. Prior to joining Atomico she was an exec and early employee at Spotify, and has been a very active angel investor based in the Nordics over the last few years.
In a call last Friday, Bendz explained that the idea behind the program is to help “activate” a new generation of angel investors who Atomico believes are well-placed to discover “the most innovative and ambitious” founders just starting out, and to attract new people to angel investing sooner than might otherwise happen. More broadly, Atomico is always looking for new ways to help grow the ecosystem in Europe. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all.
“We are passionate about helping all of the ecosystems to flourish and this is one way of boosting them, and we’re also passionate about helping to activate the next generation of angels,” said Bendz. “And for me it has been such a rewarding journey doing angel investments, and there are more people out there with knowledge and capabilities, so this is a way for us to sort of help seed them in a way”.
The Atomico Angel Programme will run on a 12-month rolling basis, with 12 angels backed in the first cohort (full list published below). Each angel is given $100,000 to write multiple early-stage cheques. They remain entirely autonomous and who they choose to invest in is up to them, as long as it does not violate Atomico’s ethical investment principles and commitments to its LPs (i.e nothing “unethical” including drugs, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and porn startups etc).
And of course angels get a share of the upside if or when the founders they back succeed, in the same way that Atomico does. To promote collaboration by angels in the program, Atomico is also allocating “pooled carry,” meaning that one company’s success benefits all the Atomico angels in the same cohort.
“It’s more relationships than transactions that matters for us, so this is a long-term play where we care about relationships with founders and talented and interesting people in our ecosystem,” said Bendz. “It’s a way for us to come closer to the grassroots community and we are always passionate about, you know, connecting and making sure people meet, so we can help being that connector and put the graduate community even closer to the old established institutions and the people that they want to meet”.
Interestingly, Atomico itself doesn’t do seed investments but backs companies one or two stages later at Series A and beyond, so the Angel Programme is very different from the angel scout networks typically operated by large VC firms in Silicon Valley that want to build a bridge to seed stage deal-flow.
It is also notable that, unlike some U.S. VCs, Atomico is making the initiative public from the get-go, offering a greater level of transparency. After all, there’s something rather odd about angel investors investing in young companies but unable to disclose where the money is actually coming from. That said, Atomico isn’t disclosing the exact split between Atomico, the angels in the program, and the pooled carry.
Another thing worth pointing out and the part that is arguably disruptive, albeit on quite a small-scale, is that the program has a chance to create angel investors that might never have the personal wealth to start investing, and therefore to diversify the angel ecosystem with fresh ideas and new, otherwise untapped investor talent. That’s because the program is targeting people who are not expected to have had a huge exit or even any exit at all. Right off the bat, the gender balance of the first cohort is better than any group of angels I’ve come across.
“What I’m excited about with this program is we are doing things a bit differently, we’re transparent about it and reaching a slightly different group of angels than the ones that are approached by the big firms in the Valley,” said Bendz. “These are more people that are operators, founders, co-founders. c-suite people, and some are great connectors with their feet down in the depths of the ecosystem, so we want to help them to do angel investments, maybe even sooner than what normally happens: People with great deal-flow that maybe haven’t had their own liquidity event”.
That’s not to say that there isn’t direct upside for Atomico. The firm makes no secret that it wants to find well-placed future angels in hard to reach “pockets” right across the often fragmented European ecosystem.
The first cohort is quite shrewdly filled with a number of known uber-connectors, such as former U.K. government advisor Rohan Silva and Station F’s Roxanne Varza. And whilst there is absolutely no guarantee that Atomico will go on to back any of the companies its newly activated angels choose to invest in, VC relationships often work best when they start early. Bendz also told me Atomico worked hard to find angels outside of its existing network.
To that end, the full list is as follows:
- Doreen Huber, Founder, LemonCat
- Suvi Haimi, Co-Founder, Sulapac
- Stefano Bernardi, Co-Founder, Token Economy
- Rohan Silva, Co-Founder, Second Home
- Clare Johnston, Founder, The Up Group
- Emily Brooke, Founder, Beryl
- Gregory Gazagne, Executive Vice President, Criteo
- Roxanne Varza, Director, Station F
- Josefin Landgård, Co-Founder, Kry
- Tuva Palm, Founder, Executive Tech Advisor
- Ritu Jain, Co-Founder, LifeX
- Johan Brand, Founding Partner, We Are Human