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Founders of Wise and Skype raise $436 million to build tech giants in Europe – NBC10 Philadelphia

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  • Plural, a venture firm set up by the founders of Wise, Skype and Songkick, raised 400 million euros ($436.4 million) for a new fund.
  • Plural II will invest mainly in European tech, seeking to find innovative names that haven’t been discovered by mainstream funds like Atomico.
  • Plural co-founder Taavvet Hinrikus, formerly of Wise, said his fund is different from competitors as it was started by entrepreneurs with “scar tissue.”

The founders of Wise, Skype and Songkick have raised 400 million euros ($436.4 million) for a new fund to back technology startups in Europe. It seeks to compete with established funds like Atomico, Balderton Capital and Creandum with its founder-led focus.

Plural Fund II, the firm’s second to date, arrives just 18 months after the firm raised its last fund, a 250 million-euro vehicle. Its co-founders include Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of fintech firm Wise, Ian Hogarth, co-founder of concert discovery service Songkick, Sten Tamkivi, co-founder of communications platform Skype, and Khaled Helioui, former CEO of Bigpoint Games.

Hinrikus told CNBC that Plural could serve as a better partner to startups in Europe than most venture capital funds, given that it was started by people with the “scar tissue” of proven entrepreneurs. Only 8% of VCs in Europe are former founders, he says, much lower than the 60% in the United States.

“If we look at a lot of VC funds, you have lots of people who have done great work with spreadsheets, not with startup life,” Hinrikus told CNBC in an interview. “In our case, it is seen as a core criteria for choosing our partners that they’re totally unemployable.”

“It feels like it’s world war three, and we’re in the trenches together as one of the founders. So, if we look at the track record, and our ability to get the deals done, I think that all seems to say that this is really missing in Europe,” Hinrikus added.

Plural raised the funds from a mix of limited partners, including British and American university endowments, U.S. foundations and insurers, strategic family offices in Europe and the United States. The firm said it saw “significant appetite” from LPs — limited partners, the institutional backers of venture funds — for its new fund and exceeded its own fundraising target, despite being in the “toughest environment” for raising a fund.

“The fact that, in a difficult fundraising environment, we’ve been able to raise a fund of this scale, with a huge amount of appetite from LPs, just shows you that some of the most sophisticated investors in the world are really recognising the opportunity in Europe, and really want to see a fund the shape of Plural,” Carina Namih, partner at Plural, told CNBC in an interview.

“I think it’s a real testament against the sort of macro backdrop that we’ve raised a fund of this size and scale so quickly,” she added.

The ‘unemployables’

Plural plans to invest at a pace of two to three investments per investor per year with its new fund. The firm has five partners in total, whom it dubs the “unemployables,” owing to the fact that they wouldn’t readily join a VC firm, or be employable at a startup. Each of the partners is an active angel investor.

Plural has made 27 investments in total, backing companies including law-focused artificial intelligence firm Robin AI, nuclear fusion power plant developer Proxima Fusion, and most recently drug discovery platform Sano Genetics. Its largest sectors by investment are AI (31%), frontier technology (16%), and climate and energy (14%).

Hinrikus said Plural isn’t interested in finding the next major software-as-a-service name in Europe, referring to companies that make software for businesses to ease the burden of storing data, accessing infrastructure, and carrying out data analytics. It’s more interested in deep tech, focusing on founders looking to solve fundamental scientific problems around energy, unlock AI “superpowers,” and make groundbreaking progress in health care.

Building tech giants in Europe

Plural says it wants to build technology giants in Europe, identifying winners in emerging categories that other funds may tend to ignore, such as deep tech and clean tech.

Carina Namih, a biotechnology entrepreneur-turned-partner at Plural, said she wouldn’t be surprised to see major technology names on a par with U.S. and Chinese giants start to emerge in Europe in the not-too-distant future.

She noted technological breakthroughs are happening much faster now, boosted by key developments around AI and more established pools of capital. 

“Look at how quickly OpenAI burst onto the scene with ChatGPT,” she said, adding it’s taking shorter amounts of time for new technologies to hit major milestones. “Clearly, the big tech companies have a lot of advantages and are entrenched in many ways. But I think now is a time more than ever, where new players and emerging players can come in and dominate entirely new spaces that didn’t exist a year ago.”

Namih previously worked on applying AI to mRNA-based medicine at her former startup HelixNano.

Plural’s new fund launch adds to the wave of startup activity that’s been happening in Europe in the last decade or so. 

A report from venture capital firm Accel late last year showed that $1 billion-plus unicorn firms often serve as catalysts for startup creation, with 1,451 new startups being founded by former employees of European and Israeli unicorns.

Of that new batch of startups, a great deal of them tend to come from fintechs, according to the report, with 70 fintech unicorns producing 423 startups.

“In the last 10 years, the whole ecosystem really has become an ecosystem, whereas before, we were just wild game hunting,” Harry Nelis, partner at Accel, told CNBC. “There was one here, one there, there was no ecosystem.”

“It’s a lot easier to start a company than before. The engineering has been done before, the marketing has been done before,” he added. “That is a flywheel that we have never had in Europe, that we now do have.”

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