Just a few months after closing a new $185 million fund to continue backing early-stage European startups, Blossom Capital, the VC firm founded by Ophelia Brown, is announcing a new angel investment program seeking to back European unicorn alumnus.
Dubbed “Cultivate,” the new program looks to create a 30-strong angel network made up of founders or operators from European unicorns or those with a European HQ, who will be tasked with backing alumni starting up.
This idea is to act as a catalyst for a more robust angel ecosystem in Europe, and in turn trigger a virtuous cycle as employees inevitably leave successful companies to hopefully build the next generation of European unicorns, backed by experienced operators.
At launch, the Cultivate angel network includes Des Traynor, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Intercom, Guillaume Pousaz, CEO and founder of Checkout.com, Nilan Peiris VP Growth at Transferwise, and Shakil Khan, an early investor in Spotify. Additional angels are expected to join in the coming months.
“In the first year of the program, we’ve just made it available to people spinning out of unicorns,” Ophelia Brown tells me. “And so if you know you’re the CEO of Intercom or the CEO of Checkout, you’re going to have people leave your company, that’s just a fact, and you hope that they’re gonna go off and start something great. So they’re sourcing, in that they can refer either their former employees or anyone else that they meet building a startup, but they’re not going to be spending their day to day sourcing. Blossom is helping with the sourcing as well”.
Over the next 12 months, Blossom says it aims to invest a total of $5 million via the Cultivate program into 20 startups in Europe, with a focus on seed and pre-seed (as apposed to Blossom’s Series A sweet spot). Each startup will get an equal investment of $250,000, although individual angels are invited to make additional co-investments, too. Beyond capital, Cultivate backed founders will be given access to the angel network throughout the year for insights, advice and learnings.
“This is different [from an angel scout program] in that the angels are all acting in concert together,” explains Brown. “They will review the applications as a group and make a decision based on that. I think it’s [the] first of its kind in that it sits somewhere between a scout program and something like Y Combinator, because with YC, the power’s in the network. And we’ve kind of taken the best of both and made it fit for Europe”.
Asked why founders might choose Cultivate over applying to YC, Brown is quick to heap praise on the renowned Silicon Valley accelerator program, but says it doesn’t necessarily make sense for startups in Europe.
“For lots of European businesses that are building their core in Europe, why would you want to move to the valley for that period to come back to build in Europe? It’s disruptive,” she says. “And also I think people are beginning to realise that the 7% tax that YC takes is actually significant when you’re doing future rounds in terms of how diluted it could be. So I think YC is no doubt a great program. Like, it’s absolutely amazing, but it’s not one size fits all. And certainly, for European founders, we wanted them to get access to founders who have experience of scaling businesses in Europe. It’s a different ecosystem”.
On that note, Brown says she hopes to grow the Cultivate angel program over time. This may well include opening it up beyond unicorn alumni, once the concept it proven, and hopefully inspiring the angel network to take on a life of its own.
“Europe really lacks an angel ecosystem in the way that we need it to exist,” adds the Blossom founder. “And so we hope that we spawn the first group and then as they feel comfortable, they’ll go and do it independently of Blossom”.