OMERS Ventures announces a new $750M fund for investing in North America, Europe

OMERS Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), has put together a new, $750 million fund to invest in both Europe and North America.

The capital vehicle is larger than the group’s preceding European and North American funds combined. In 2019 OMERS Ventures announced a €300 million fund Europe-focused fund (TechCrunch covered its launch here), and the venture group’s last North American fund was worth $300 million back in 2017. The new $750 million is a hybrid, acting as both the firm’s Europe-focused capital pool and the source of funds from which it can invest in North American startups.

According to Damien Steel, a managing partner at OMERS Ventures, the firm invested about CAD$100 million from the original Europe fund, with the rest now reserved for follow-on investments; Steel told TechCrunch that he doesn’t anticipate that the full amount will be used for that purpose.

But the remaining differential is somewhat immaterial as the venture collective has a new, three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars capital pool to put to work. According to Steel, OMERS Ventures has “consolidated [its] efforts and made a new transatlantic fund.” The firm’s hope is that the shared capital will lead to a more cohesive investing group than having two funds for different teams engendered.

OMERS Ventures expects to deploy around $200 million a year across Europe and North America, a pace that Steel says will be similar to preceding efforts.

The COVID era

I wanted to chase down what Steel and company are doing that’s different in the new era. Something new is a slightly different mindset concerning runway. Instead of the usual 18-month expectation between rounds, Steel told TechCrunch that expectations and planning are lengthening to 24 months or longer between capital events — enough cash to get through whatever the current downturn winds up becoming.

Happily for Steel and his firm, some OMERS portfolio companies are well capitalized, with the venture capitalist telling TechCrunch during a call that “that the companies [his firm has] invested in a have really benefited from the exceptional amount of liquidity that’s been available in the market over the last two years,” with some of their startups winding up “sitting on quite a lot of cash because arguably they raised too much in 2019 and 2018.”

The capital was cheap, Steel notes, so lots of companies took what was on offer. The result? Many startups heading into 2020’s recession have well-stocked bank accounts. Not all, of course, raised right before things got worse. The firms that didn’t may struggle.

Given that the new OMERS Ventures fund intends to invest both in North America and Europe, I wanted to know what’s different between the two regions today as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive economic havoc. Notable to me was the fact that Europe is doing as well as it is, with Steel noting that “the funding environment has remained more active in Europe than it has in the US.”

He’s seeing “healthy” activity in Europe around the Series A and B stages. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Steel told TechCrunch that the startup valuation pressure it’s easy to find in the North America venture scene isn’t quite as tough in Europe. Steel noted that 20% and 30% drops in valuation multiples in American and Canada from prior levels are common, while in Europe “it’s definitely less than that.”

For founders that there’s new funds of scale coming together at all is likely welcome. OMERS Ventures expects to have closed eight deals from its new fund “within a month,” a quick pace given its age.

Disclosure: OMERS Ventures invested in Crunchbase, my former employer.