The Venture Capital space is vitally important to the wider startup ecosystem. Through firms and funds, innovative founders and promising startups are able to access financial support, guidance and a network in order to scale their business ventures and make an impact in their market area. It’s a space that is fast-moving, cut-throat and, gets a lot of pressure.
From criticism surrounding diversity in VC to discontent with tightened purse strings, VCs are used to getting some slack, and there are certainly some perceptions that the VC space is insular, discriminatory and self-interested. Looking at the stats, it’s easy to see why. We took a look at the overview of Europe’s entrepreneurial ecosystem recently and found that non-white and non-male founders are still reporting discrimination and actively experiencing it on a day-to-day basis, with it impacting their access to funding and networks – two crucial components to startup success.
Things are changing though, and, it has been proven time and time again that backing diversity, backing the underrepresented, has big returns for everyone. a well-documented fact that the more diverse a team is, the more successful it is and we are seeing this become a defining characteristic of the fastest-growing and most exciting startups from across Europe. We’ve also seen funds and initiatives across the continent develop to encourage this spirit of diversity and inclusion.
One of the first female-founded VC firms in Europe was BackingMinds – a firm dedicated to finding opportunities in the blind spots of VC, to supporting those founders who don’t fit the traditional image and come from different backgrounds – whether that be the city or town they are scaling a company from, their ethnic background, their gender or their orientation.
Built on the thesis that the next unicorns will come from looking to the overlooked parts of Europe’s startup ecosystem, the Nordic firm, which was founded in 2016, is expanding across the Nordics, has tripled its investment team and is doubling down on the region. Founded by Susanne Najafi and Sara Wimmercranz, BackingMinds was built to address their first-hand experiences and challenges in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Both women had seen and felt how a ridiculously small amount of Swedish VC was lowing to founders who didn’t fit into the traditional investment template, e.g. women or immigrants. So they set out to challenge the investment bias in venture capital, caused by industry homogeneity and herd behaviour.
“Our aim is to try to create a more diverse startup community”
Sara Resvik, CEO and Partner
BackingMinds just closed a fund of €50 million, investing from idea phase to seed-stage with tickets ranging from €500k to €3 million. Based in Stockholm, the idea is to invest in 20 companies in total, from across Europe, with plans to specialise in the Nordics and Denmark, where a new office has just been opened.
BackingMinds has named itself pretty well – because after all, that’s what the firm is about – backing the minds that are making change for the good of society, not a person who fits the traditional prototype. To achieve that, the firm is committed to looking to the blind spots of the traditional VC space.
“We’ve proven that as a VC, it’s possible to both deliver great returns and drive positive societal change. Data shows that the biggest blind spots in venture capital are female founders, minority founders and startups located outside of the capital city. These three areas have been historically underinvested, which is clear in Denmark when looking at the venture funding from 2021: 1% went to female-founded startups, 4% to mixed teams, <1% to minority founders and only 13% of all venture funding went to startups outside of Copenhagen.”
Sara Resvik, CEO and Partner
We learn more
BackingMinds has advocated finding opportunities in the blind spots – what exactly does this mean?
Historically – all the blind spots in VC (i.e female founders, minority founders and startups located outside of the capital city) are areas where traditional investors have seen nothing but risk. If we continue to use Denmark as an example, 95% of all venture funding in 2021 went to all-male founding teams and 87% of all venture funding went to startups based in Copenhagen. These points speak for themselves and are so extreme that something needs to be done to give women, minorities and startups outside of the capital, the same chances to succeed.
Investing in the blind spots is at the core of what we’re here to do. It’s been our recipe for success in Sweden and we see enormous potential for this exact investment strategy to pay off in the Nordic region, as well as broader Europe.
How does BackingMinds stand out from other VC firms?
As a team, all of us are former founders and operators, which means that we understand the problems founders go through and can be hands-on in helping them. Most other funds consist of former consultants or bankers, who’ve never tried to run their own startup or work in a startup.
As a fund, we’ve always been contrarian and had a clear investment thesis, focusing on changing the stereotypical way of investing. This is visible in that we were the first venture capital firm founded by women in Europe (until then very few female Partners exited in venture funds in Europe) and through our investment thesis of investing in the blindspots of venture capital – female founders, minorities and startups outside of the capital.
VC: The Challenges
The startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem needs VC to operate. It’s providing the big cheques and the connections that are helping make startup dreams flourish. When it comes to growth and impact, in many ways they hold the power – the power to choose to fund impact-driven ventures, to fund diverse founders, to fund those that want to make a change.
With this power, comes scrutiny, and that’s what we aim to achieve, Given that BackingMinds prides itself on doing things differently, we wanted their thoughts on VC’s image problem.
What are the problematic areas of VC?
The most problematic parts have historically been homogenous investment patterns and herd behaviour, which means white men are investing in other white men. This is improving with more diversity among the funds, but most of the actual investment decisions are still concentrated among male VC Partners. In order for our startup community to be really diverse, we need more diversity among venture firms.
Is there a hesitancy to fund ventures that are different and that are impactful?
As a larger portion of VCs are still men, the significant gender imbalance in gatekeepers and investment decision-makers for early-stage capital means that most venture funding historically has gone to male founding teams. So the main reason is that most VC investors have historically been men, which have their biases. We’ve generally seen hesitation and probably will keep seeing it when larger shifts in the market occur – from investors being sceptical around the possibility of generating good returns by investing in sustainability, climate and impact to the same around investing in diversity.
How can VCs flip the switch and support positive societal change?
VCs decide with their money and through their investments. They allocate capital towards companies solving specific problems within specific industries. So the best way for them to drive positive societal change is to invest in startups solving the most urgent problems we as society face within Energy, Water, Food, Agriculture etc.
Given that the extent of the problems we face as a society is becoming more and more real, the market potential is becoming evident as well. For that exact reason, the next Google is thought to be a climate tech startup.
The Nordics’ secret sauce
Ask just about anyone which part of Europe seems the most ‘together’, the most forward-thinking and the most trend-setting, and the vast majority will say the Nordics. BackignMinds is based in Stockholm, and while its latest fund can support startups from all parts of Europe, they are doubling down on its home region and expanding its presence there.
What’s the Nordic startup secret?
The Nordic countries are very innovative and I believe this stems from a variety of elements – from having highly developed educational systems, high investments in R&D, high degree of public policies promoting innovation to a well-designed safety net to a lot of other variables. In the Nordics, we have a highly educated population and a high degree of trust, which creates an environment where innovation can thrive.
Does Sweden stand out?
Firstly, Sweden has consistently been ranked by the EU and WEK as Europe’s leading country for innovation, which includes a historic tradition of inventors, a belief in the individual and a strong commitment to gender equality. Secondly, there is the close collaboration between research institutes and the private and public sectors, which sets a great foundation for large Swedish companies like Ericsson, Volve and AstraZeneca. On top of this, Sweden is one of Europe’s top three spenders in R&D, which is closely linked to innovation. Thirdly, Sweden has had plenty of great startup success stories such as Skype, Spotify, Truecall, Klarna, King, Mojang, which has created an immense talent pool + a new breed of angel investors, who have been able to create the next generation of startups. All of these elements combined have helped shape the Swedish startup ecosystem including the number of active local and international VC’s, which have increasingly invested in Swedish startups.
BackingMinds Nordic expansion plans
In the short term, the plans are to do some great investments in Denmark, after opening an office in Copenhagen and hiring a full-time Principal to lead our investments there. Beyond that we’ll be more present in Norway and Finland, to ensure that we become a truly Nordic fund.
The latest fund
BackingMinds, along with sharing recent expansion plans, has also just raised its latest fund. The fund is built on the idea that the next unicorns won’t come out of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo or Helsinki, which is a fresh take. We wanted to find out more about it, and what the team want to achieve with it.
Whos’s contributing to the recent fund?
We managed to raise our latest fund of €50m within 3 weeks from family offices only. These include the Persson family who owns the retailer H&M, Martin Lorentzon, the co-founder of Spotify, Ilkka Paananen, co-founder of the biggest gaming success in Nordics, Supercell (creator of Clash of Clans) and Niklas Zennström, Founder of Skype & Atomico. Other investors in the new fund include the founders of private equity firms EQT and Nordic Capital, Thomas Hartwig, who is co-founder of King — the company behind Candy Crush Saga — the founders of software company Sinch Robert Gerstmann and Kristian Mannik, and the Olsson family behind the Stena group of companies.
If the next unicorns aren’t coming from capitals, where are they?
It’s obvious to us that Denmark has great potential, which is why Denmark is the first country where we really expand with a full-time person.
Examples in Denmark can be made in cities outside of Copenhagen – the cities of Aarhus and Odense, where respectively a Fintech cluster is shaping up in Århus. This is driven by the founders of Clearhaus & Quickpay, who sold their business to a German company and these founders are now investing in Fintech startups at the earliest stages and helping from idea to seed. In Odense the robotics company Universal Robots got sold to US-based Teradyne and has since created a booming robotics cluster, which creates new jobs and specialisation within Robotics.
These two examples show that there are great new clusters shaping up in Denmark and plenty of opportunities to make great investments.
Addressing the current economic climate
While cash is still flowing in Europe’s startup ecosystem, we can’t be blind to the wider challenges and problems at foot. Big companies have been making intense layoffs, budgets have been slashed and the vast majority of Europeans are dealing with rising costs and financial worry. In the current economic climate – how can the BackingMinds approach make a difference?
What’s the outlook in BackingMinds’ opinion?
Making investments in a downturn is tricky, but if we were to look on the positive side from an investor perspective, then you could argue that you get to see how various startups and industries react to stress such as rising inflation, recession, financial crisis etc. Based on this, you’re able to evolve your strategy as an investor, gain experience and hopefully make better investment decisions.
How can startups and innovators survive the current climate?
The best way for startups to survive is twofold – they need to be very close to their customers, and know what their pains and worries are, so they can help them, avoid churn and potentially continue selling and on the other side, they should ensure that they have a buffer in their finances, to be able to absorb potential downturn in revenue of min. 8-12 months.