One of Nigeria’s high profile angel investors is launching a fund for African startups

Olumide Soyombo is one of the well-known active angel investors in Nigeria tech startups and Africa at large. Since he began angel investing in 2014, Soyombo has invested in 33 startups, including Stripe-owned Paystack, PiggyVest, and TeamApt.

Today, the investor is announcing the launch of Voltron Capital, a Pan-African venture capital firm he co-founded with Abe Choi, a U.S.-based entrepreneur and investor.

Voltron will be deploying capital to roughly 30 startups, mostly in pre-seed and seed-stage across Africa, in a bid to “address the severe lack of access to early-stage funding for African tech companies.” The ticket sizes will range from $20,000 to $100,000, focusing on startups in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and North Africa.

Soyombo is one of the few founder-cum-investors on the continent, despite his company not being the traditional VC-backed startup the world has become accustomed to. In 2008, he started Bluechip Technologies with a friend, Kazeem Tewogbade as an enterprise company that provides data warehousing solutions and enterprise applications to banks, telcos, insurance firms. Some of its biggest clients include OEMs like Oracle.

Non-traditional startup founder to an angel investor

Six years later, the pair decided to venture into tech, a relatively nascent industry in Nigeria at the time and began investing in startups via LeadPath, an early-stage firm they launched in Lagos, Nigeria. The idea was to invest $25,000 and take the startups through a three-month accelerator program culminating in a Demo Day. The plan was to run LeadPath like Y Combinator but it didn’t take off as planned.

“In 2014, three months after we found out that there was no investor to put them in front of. So you’d have to write another check yourself,” Soyombo said humorously over the phone. “We quickly saw that the accelerator model didn’t work, so we started investing individually. It’s funny how things have changed since then.”

LeadPath became a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the pair to carry out their angel investing deals. And over the years, Soyombo has launched several SPVs for the same purpose. So, why do things differently now by creating a fund? Soyombo walks me through one of the processes he has used to fund deals over the years to answer this question.

As an influential figure in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem, Soyombo has access to almost any important deal in the market. “I get the privilege of seeing many deals before most people see them. I’ve built that network within the startup ecosystem and reputation as an angel always ready to help. So obviously, that helped me see many deals very quickly,” he said. Often, his deal flows are filled with startups seeking six-figure pre-seed to seed investments. Say, for instance, a founder is looking to raise $300,000, Soyombo can typically invest $50,000 of his own money. And based on his perception of the startup’s growth prospects, he can choose to bring his friends and acquaintances on board to fill the round.

This informal approach is what Soyombo wants to make formal via a structured format where each individual or organisational LPs gets access to his deal flow simultaneously. The investor believes companies will get capital quicker this way. And the interesting bit is that his work in corporate Nigeria has allowed him to access non-traditional capital which means some of the investors that use Soyombo’s deal flows are outside the typical Nigerian tech investing landscape. 

He sees his job as someone bridging the gap of angel investing between his corporate friends and colleagues who have not typically invested in tech and startups that need their money. 

“There’s a bit of FOMO now,” he said. “People, including high net worth individuals, tell me to carry them along anytime I’m investing, and then I have startups looking for capital as well. But then again, I’m not trying to get a full job by managing a full fund which is why we’ve structured it this way.”

Anyone familiar with the happenings in African tech these past few months knows the two events that have caused this FOMO: Paystack’s exit to Stripe and Flutterwave’s unicorn status. Soyombo was an early investor in the former, marking his solitary primary exit alongside two secondaries within a portfolio that have cumulatively raised over $70 million. Thus, it’s not hard to see why Soyombo isn’t having a hard time convincing non-traditional investors, including HNIs (who are notoriously risk-averse when it comes to tech investing), to write checks in startups.

All of a sudden, everyone is interested in what’s happening in the space. The HNIs that would’ve thrown money into real estate are looking for startups. We even see older HNIs telling their children to invest on their behalf, so it’s an easier conversation to have. Most of them want to diversify their portfolio by having a piece of that pie,” he said, pointing to Paystack and Flutterwave successes.

Abe Choi (Co-founder, Voltron)

Voltron Capital will be managed on AngelList. Its investors cut across HNIs and executives from banks, telcos, among other sectors, each investing a minimum of $10,000. Voltron is similar to a typical seven-figure fund targeting pre-seed and seed-stage startups in Africa, yet it’s quite different in the way it chooses to back founders. The fund remains an embodiment of Soyombo’s investment stance, which is “founders-first regardless of the industry.”

“I’m going to continue backing interesting entrepreneurs. If Odunayo of PiggyVest was building a healthtech or edtech company, I’ll still back that company,” he said, referring to the $1 million investment he made three years ago in one of Nigeria’s widely celebrated fintechs. “So I think the investability of sectors, for me, is driven by quality entrepreneurs that are going to solve problems in that area.”

Early-stage investing needs more work

In 2019, African tech startups raised a record $2 billion, according to Partech Africa. They have raised half that number already this year, and some publications predict these startups will break 2019’s record.

A large chunk of these investments goes into late-stage deals, which is typical of most tech ecosystems globally. But Africa stands out because early-stage startups find it more difficult to raise investments compared to other regions. For instance, IFC reported that 82% of African tech startups cite access to seed funding and a lack of angel investors as major problems they face. Without early-stage funding, many of the startups primed to drive this growth are missing out on vital capital to support their early operations and generate revenue, which is a key requirement for securing later rounds of funding and a larger scale.

Voltron, in its little capacity, wants to fill this gap in the best way it can. Besides listing local investors as LPs, Soyombo says startups will be able to access foreign capital too. Choi is the key to making that happen. Personally, Choi has invested in 15 startups (exiting two); therefore, his experience and network in the U.S. will be crucial in sourcing foreign capital into the continent

Soyombo believes Stripe acquisition of Paystack has made foreign investors take notice of African startups. He humorously references Paul Graham’s tweet after the acquisition as another reason why foreign investors’ interests have also piqued. The tweet from the Y Combinator co-founder read: “Investors who ignore Nigeria now have to ask themselves: What do I know that Patrick Collision doesn’t?”

That said, the investor holds that the pace at which the African tech ecosystem is maturing should excite anyone. The quality of founders on the continent is improving and will continue in that manner because there are more problems to solve, he continued.

“Also, as our startups mature, we’ll see people leaving to set up theirs. We want the next wave of African tech success stories to not only make an impact on the continent but to be truly global; through Abe’s strategic connections to the USA, we’re confident we can provide our portfolio with the best possible opportunities to achieve this through our US and global network.”

Founders: How well do you really understand seed-stage financing?

I’ve fundraised a lot. Tactically, fundraising is a skill like any other. You get better the more you do it. But practicing gets you nowhere if you don’t have a strong foundation in understanding a fundraising round’s core components.

As a founder, you will understand less than investors when it comes to fundraising. For investors, negotiating with founders is their full-time job. For founders, fundraising is just a small part of building a business. Understanding the basics of venture financing can help founders raise on better terms.

We’ll cover:

  • How financing works: SAFEs versus equity rounds,
  • How much to raise
  • How to arrive at your valuation

How financing works: SAFEs versus equity rounds

Venture financing takes place in rounds. The first stage is the pre-seed or seed round, then a Series A, then a Series B, then a Series C, and so on. You can continue to raise funding until the company is profitable, gets acquired or goes public.

We will focus here on seed-stage funding — your very first funding round.

SAFEs

Post-money SAFEs are the most common way to raise funding. These documents are used by Y Combinator, angel investors, and most early-stage funds. You should raise on post-money SAFEs using standard documents created by YC. Standard documents have consistent terms that have been drafted to be fair to both investors and founders.

By using the standard post-money SAFE, your negotiation can focus on the two terms that matter:

  1. Principal: The amount you want to raise per investor.
  2. Valuation cap: The value of your business.

5 fundraising imperatives for robotics startups

Early-stage robotics fundraising is accelerating, with funding coming from boutiques to deep-pocketed venture capital firms. For founders, getting their idea from concept to company, or developing a minimum viable product, is daunting enough, but seeking an initial fundraising round brings a complexity that can be especially challenging to manage.

So how do robotics startups best approach fundraising and secure the financing to propel their company to the next level? There are five key areas to keep in mind about fundraising for robotics startups that founders must learn and practice.

Understand the proper fit between your company’s scale and the fund’s scale

Too often, founders court venture capitalists without understanding that the company they are founding might not be the right fit for VCs. Venture capital firms generally, and ones that invest in robotics specifically, look to invest in startups that have clearly identified potential to scale exponentially.

They are not geared toward backing entrepreneurs looking for an exit under $100 million that will only realize a handful of multiples for the investor. VCs are more likely looking to fund on a much larger scale — think a $1-billion-plus exit valuation — and back a company with the potential to deliver at least a 10x return.

Venture capital firms generally, and ones that invest in robotics specifically, look to invest in startups that have clearly identified potential to scale exponentially.

Usually, robotics companies are capital-intensive and require a robust revenue model compared to pure software startups, and this is not for every VC. In fact, venture capital is likened to “rocket fuel” that is dangerous if put into a car but perfect for a rocket ready to shoot for escape velocity. Smaller-scale ventures often do not interest VCs but might be perfect for angel investors.

Bottom line: Do your homework, manage expectations, and seek funding from investors working at a scale commensurate with your idea and comfortable with the unique needs of robotics companies.

Consider capital sources that fit different companies and startups at different stages of its growth

Now is a great time for starting a company, in part because there have never been more sources of financing available. Angel investors and venture capitalists are just a portion of what is available.

There is growing opportunity, especially for robotics and AI startups, in nondilutive capital, including from U.S. government sources such as Department of Energy and Department of Defense grants. There are loaded/nondilutive funding streams, such as convertible debt, available from financial institutions and angels.

Special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, especially for hardware and robotics companies, have become popular in recent years. Some of these might be a better fit for your company at the current (or future) stage of your organizational growth cycle.

But some sophistication is warranted. Ask yourself what constraints or potential downsides come with the specific funding model you are considering/pursuing. Government grants, for instance, might drive the pace of development or push you toward certain customer-facing directions in ways that could be ill-suited to your company.

Hear top VCs Albert Wegner, Jenny Rooke, and Shilpi Kumar talk green bets at the Extreme Tech Challenge finals

This year, TechCrunch is proudly hosting the Extreme Tech Challenge Global Finals on July 22. The event is among the world’s largest purpose-driven startup competitions that are aiming to solve global challenges based on the United Nations’ 17 sustainability goals.

If you want to catch an array of innovative startups across a range of categories, all of them showcasing what they’re building, you won’t want to miss our must-see pitch-off competition.

You can also catch feature panels hosted by TechCrunch editors, including one of the most highly anticipated discussions of the event, a talk on “going green” with guest speakers Shilpi Kumar, Jenny Rooke, and Albert Wenger, all of whom are actively investing in climate startups that are targeting big opportunities

Shilpi Kumar is a partner with Urban Us, an investment platform focused on urban tech and climate solutions. She previously led go-to-market and early sales efforts at Filament, a startup focused on deploying secure wireless networks for connected physical assets. As an investor, Shilpi has also focused on hardware, mobility, energy, IoT, and robotics, having worked previously for VTF Capital, First Round Capital, and Village Global.

Jenny Rooke is the founder and managing director of Genoa Ventures, but Rooke has been deploying capital into innovative life sciences opportunities for years, including at Fidelity Biosciences and later the Gates Foundation, where she helped managed more than $250 million in funding, funneling some of that capital into genetic engineering, diagnostics, and synthetic biology startups. Rooke began independently investing under the brand 5 Prime Ventures, ultimately establishing among the largest life sciences syndicates on AngelList before launching Genoa.

Last but not least, Albert Wenger, has been a managing partner at Union Square Ventures for more than 13 years. Before joining USV, Albert was the president of del.icio.us through the company’s sale to Yahoo and an angel investor, including writing early checks to Etsy and Tumblr. He previously founded or co-founded several companies, including a management consulting firm and an early hosted data analytics company. Among his investments today is goTenna, a company trying to advance universal access to connectivity by building a scalable mobile mesh network.

Sustainability is the key to our planet’s future and our survival, but it’s also going to be incredibly lucrative and a major piece of our world economy. Hear from these seasoned investors about how VCs and startups alike are thinking about Greentech and how that will evolve in the coming years.

Join us on July 22 to find out how the most innovative startups are working to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And best of all, tickets are free — book yours today!

Seed is not the new Series A

The incredible success of the cloud business applications space in recent years has driven up valuations and fundraising across all stages of venture investment. That has in turn increased VC fund sizes, led to massive cloud IPOs and brought a new cadre of investors to further fuel the fire.

The median Series A raised by cloud companies these days is about $8 million and can often go well above $10 million, according to PitchBook data from the first quarter of 2021. Series Cs now routinely include secondary capital for founders, and many Series Ds are above $100 million with valuations in the billions.

There is a widening gap in the funding continuum between angel/seed funding at inception and the new-age $10 million Series A at $2 million in ARR.

Such an influx of capital and interest has upended many structures and long-held norms about how startups are funded. Venture funds continue to grow and must write larger checks, but ever-higher valuations force many firms to hunt for opportunities earlier. The VC alphabet soup has been spilled, making A rounds look like Bs used to, and the Bs seem like the Cs of old.

Which begs an interesting question: Is the seed round the new Series A?

We don’t think so.

Seed rounds have certainly grown — averaging about $3 million nowadays from around $1 million to $2 million previously — but otherwise, seed investments are the same as before and remain very different from Series As.

Todd and Rahul’s Angel Fund closes new $24 million fund

After making investments in 57 startups together, Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra and Eventjoy founder Todd Goldberg are back at it with a new $24 million fund and big ambitions amid a venture capital renaissance with fast-moving deals aplenty.

Todd and Rahul’s Angel Fund” announced their first $7.3 million fund just weeks before the pandemic hit stateside last year and they were soon left with more access to deals than they had funding to support; they went on to raise $3.5 million in a rolling fund designed around making investments in later-stage deals beyond seed and Series A rounds.

“We closed right before COVID hit and we had one plan, but then everything accelerated,” Goldberg tells TechCrunch. “A lot of our companies started raising additional rounds.”

With their latest raise, Vohra and Goldberg are looking to maintain their wide outlook with a single fund, saying they plan to invest three-quarters of the fund in early-stage deals while saving a quarter of the $24 million for later-stage opportunities. Still, the duo know they likely could’ve chosen to raise more.

“A lot of our peers were scaling up into much larger funds,” Vohra says. “For us, we wanted to stay small and collaborative.”

Some of the firm’s investments from their first fund include NBA Top Shot creator Dapper Labs, open source Firebase alternative Supabase, D2C liquor brand Haus, alternative asset platform Alt, biowearable maker Levels and location analytics startup Placer. Their biggest hit was an early investment in audio chat app Clubhouse before Andreessen Horowitz led its buzzy seed round at a $100 million valuation. Clubhouse most recently raised at $4 billion.

The pair say they’ve learned a ton through the past year of navigating increasingly competitive rounds and that fighting for those deals has helped the duo hone how they market themselves to founders.

“You never want to be a passive check,” Goldberg says. “We do three things: we help companies find product/market fit, we help them super-charge distribution… and we help them find the best investors.”

A big part of the firm’s appeal to founders has been the “operator” status of its founders. Goldberg’s startup Eventjoy was acquired by Ticketmaster and Vohra’s Rapportive was bought by LinkedIn while his current startup Superhuman has maintained buzz for its premium email service and has raised $33 million from investors, including Andreessen Horowitz and First Round Capital.

Their new fund has an unusual LP base that’s made up of more than 110 entrepreneurs and investors, including 40 founders that Vohra and Goldberg have previously backed themselves. Backers of their second fund include Plaid’s William Hockey, Behance’s Scott Belsky, Haus’s Helena Price Hambrecht, Lattice’s Jack Altman and Loom’s Shahed Khan.

The exit effect: 4 ways IPOs and acquisitions drive positive change across the global ecosystem

For many VCs, the exit is the endgame; you cash in and move on. But as we know, the startup world is evolving, and that means the impact of investment is no longer limited to how much money is made.

As investors, we’re looking further into what each investment means to human beings, at interlinking our mission with our money. And yet, one of the events that generates the most momentum for long-term impact — the successful exit of a portfolio company — is not being harnessed.

When leveraged properly, an exit can be the beginning of a firm’s true impact, especially when we’re talking about giving all founders equal opportunities and empowering the best ideas. The investment sphere is slowly shaking off its “America first” approach as foreign products take the world by storm and international businesses become the norm.

When leveraged properly, an exit can be the beginning of a firm’s true impact, especially when we’re talking about giving all founders equal opportunities and empowering the best ideas.

Investors will be driving forces in enabling the highest-potential companies to build products that countries everywhere will benefit from — no matter where they were conceived. The way they play the game can transform the industry into one in which a founder from across the ocean has as much of a chance to change the world as one from next door.

We know the basics of how to do this with cash: Investing in underrepresented founders is a necessary first step. But who’s talking about the power of exits to change the playing field for diverse founders? We must consider the psychological motivation of seeing a huge buyout on other entrepreneurs, what that startup’s ex-team members go on to build, and what the achievements of one citizen does for that nation’s reputation.

Last year, 41 venture-backed companies saw a billion-dollar exit, totaling over $100 billion, the highest numbers in a decade. We have an unprecedented amount of clout to do something with those power moves and four ways to turn them into a domino effect.

1. Competitor effect

When a foreign entrepreneur raises money from U.S. firms and sells to a U.S. company, other immigrants see that. Regardless of how groundbreaking their product idea might be, immigrant Americans will always be more wary of putting their eggs into the entrepreneurship basket, at least as long as 93% of all VC money continues to be controlled by white men.

This, despite research suggesting that immigrants contribute 40% more to innovation than local inventors.

What these foreign entrepreneurs most need is confidence, role models and success stories proving other people who look like them have made it, especially when those founders are making waves in the same industry as them.

So a big, well-publicized exit will create momentum in the industry for other foreign founders to give fuel to their venture and seek to take it to the next stage. Not only that, it will instill more self-assurance when it comes to fundraising, and investors will value that.

I was inspired to write this column after Returnly, a fintech founded by a fellow immigrant from Spain based in San Francisco — which, for full transparency, I invested in as an angel investor, and then for Series B and C via my fund — was acquired for $300 million by Affirm.

While there was undoubtedly a personal financial gain worth celebrating, the success of a foreign founder who persevered against the odds in such a competitive ecosystem as Silicon Valley, raised large rounds from U.S.-based investors, and was finally acquired by a U.S. company served as a moment of inspiration for other diverse founders around the world. We saw this in the amount of media attention it received in both business and mainstream press in Spain and the floods of connect requests and congratulations that followed on LinkedIn.

The impact of an exit is greater when it shows foreign entrepreneurs that there are globally minded organizations helping startups like theirs get equal access to funding. That means having VC firms that spotlight international entrepreneurship and foster global expert networks.

As investors, we can maximize the impact of our exits in the industry by highlighting the foreign origins of our founders in a big way when it comes to promoting the exit, including narrating the challenges and opportunities they encountered on their journey. We can use the victory to drive the point home to our fellow investors that diverse and international entrepreneurship is an undervalued gem. We can personally take the win to boost our brand as one that empowers foreign entrepreneurs in that niche, attracting more to seek funding with us in a positive reinforcement cycle.

2. Wealth effect

The windfall from a big exit puts all previous investors in a privileged position, and it’s unlikely that money will sit around for long. They’ll look to reinvest in other high-potential companies — probably ones that look a lot like the one that was just sold.

But in addition to those investors multiplying the positive impact in their own portfolio, they will rally other investors to behave in a similar way.

Each exit — good or bad — sets a precedent for that niche and that type of company. Other investors will follow suit if they sense that one of their peers is onto a cash cow. Because foreign and ethnic minority founders are still underrepresented in startup funding, it makes this field less competitive while harboring huge potential. VCs who have an eye out for unique opportunities will spot when an investor has made a hefty profit from an unconventional startup, especially if they continue to invest in others in that same field.

To help this along, angels and VCs who’ve been behind a recent exit and are reinvesting in similar founders should publicize those knock-on investments, explaining how their previous success motivated them to support similar ventures. They can also be vocal within their network about their decision to raise up certain entrepreneurs because they’ve seen it works.

Returnly’s founder recently offered to put some of his earnings back into our fund, enabling more foreign entrepreneurs like himself to access capital. If as investors we foster meaningful relationships with our funders and truly care about empowering diverse entrepreneurs, we’ll see more of that wealth circle back into our mission.

3. Team effect

The PayPal Mafia is a set of former PayPal executives and employees — such as Elon Musk, a South African, and Peter Thiel, a German American — who have gone on to seriously disrupt not one but multiple industries across tech. Among the companies they’ve founded are YouTube, LinkedIn, Yelp and Tesla, and they’ve even been named U.S. ambassadors. That’s just one company. Imagine what other diverse and driven teams can do with the influx of cash and inspiration that comes with a big exit. There will be a ripple effect of team members eager to start out on their own who feel empowered by the success of someone who believed in them.

Their ventures will be more likely to “pass it on” when it comes to giving equal opportunities to people regardless of origin and will generate more jobs for people with their mission. Take Thiel, who has to date backed over 40 companies in Europe alone.

As VCs, we can capitalize on this team effect by keeping our eye on any spinoff ventures that arise and supporting them when possible (with experience and contacts, if not with capital). But beyond this, you can also consider encouraging these people to join the investment sphere, maybe even within your firm. Many successful startup founders and executives go on to become investors — the PayPal Mafia has contributed to some of the most notorious funds out there today. The origin story of these former team members will make them more prone to supporting underrepresented founders they can get behind. In turn, new entrepreneurs will draw more value from their personal experiences.

4. Reputation effect

Although Returnly is headquartered in San Francisco, its founder is Spanish and many of its employees were based in Spain.

That means that the impact of Returnly’s exit will be felt on the other side of the Atlantic as well as among co-nationals in the United States. The same is true of other notable sales, like AlienVault, which was founded in Spain and had multiple offices there. AlienVault was acquired by U.S. telecommunications giant AT&T for $900 million. Or IPOs — earlier this month, the Spanish-origin payments company Flywire filed for an IPO that could value the company at $3 billion. One startup’s success boosts the reputation of its entire team, and with it other founders and talent with their same country of origin, background, education and drive.

It follows that investors and other stakeholders will be more inclined to back opportunities among founders from the same home country if it says something about the mission, expertise and culture they bring to their startup.

At the same time, growing startups will be more interested in hiring the talent of evidently successful teams. That doesn’t just mean hiring more foreign experts in the United States, but seeking to outsource farther afield. We’re already becoming far more comfortable with remote teams, and it’s more capital-efficient for one half of the team to be working while the other half sleeps. But founders will always gravitate more to countries where local talent and innovation is already seen to be thriving. Open up that conversation with your portfolio companies.

VCs have the power to change an industry forever, to connect startup ecosystems across continents and to see startups expand worldwide. But this is about staying relevant as an investor as much as it’s about ensuring this next stage in the startup world is a positive one.

Investors who don’t recognize that the future of startups is global and diverse in nature won’t be in sync with the best opportunities — and won’t be selected by the best founders. Rather than trying to play catchup, help build that ecosystem.

Internal rates of return in emerging US tech hubs are starting to overtake Silicon Valley

Tech innovation is becoming more widely distributed across the United States.

Among the five startups launched in 2020 that raised the most financing, four were based outside the Bay Area. Prominent VCs like Keith Rabois of Founders Fund, David Blumberg of Blumberg Capital, and Joe Lonsdale of 8VC have moved out of the Bay Area to new emerging tech hubs, which AngelList defines as Austin, Texas; Seattle; Denver; Portland, Oregon; Brooklyn, New York; Nashville, Tennessee; Pittsburgh; and Miami.

The number of syndicated deals on AngelList in emerging markets has increased 144% over the last five years.

The number of startups in these emerging markets is growing fast, according to AngelList data, and increasingly getting a bigger piece of the VC pie.

AngelList compared the performance of startups based in emerging tech hubs to startups in Silicon Valley by internal rate of return (IRR), which measures the rate of growth these investments have generated. AngelList defines “Silicon Valley” as San Francisco, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Oakland, San Mateo, Berkeley, Redwood City, Menlo Park, San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Burlingame and San Carlos.

According to AngelList’s data, startups in emerging tech hubs have an aggregate IRR of 19.4% per year on syndicated deals on AngelList. Syndicated deals on AngelList in Silicon Valley have an aggregate IRR of 17.5% per year.

Total value to paid-in (TVPI), which is the return multiple net of fees, is also slightly higher for AngelList deals in emerging tech hubs (1.67x) than Silicon Valley (1.60x). This means for every $1 invested into startups based in emerging tech hubs, the investor’s portfolio is now valued at $1.67, compared to $1.60 for Silicon Valley startups.

This data is based on a sample of nearly 2,500 syndicated deals on AngelList dating back to 2013, with returns current as of January 1, 2021.

Investors we spoke with offered a variety of reasons for the rise of these emerging tech hubs, including cheaper taxes outside the Bay Area, lower cost of living and a wider distribution of talent brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ada Ventures closes first fund at $50M, investing in diverse founders tacking society’s problems

A year ago this week Ada Ventures — a UK/Europe focused VC with an ‘impact twist’ aiming to invest in diverse founders tacking societal problems — launched on stage at Techcrunch Disrupt. (You can watch the video of that launch below).

Today Ada announces that it has closed its first fund at $50 million. Cornerstone LPs in the fund include Big Society Capital, an entity owned by the UK government, as well as the the British Business Bank.

Check Warner, a co-founding partner, said the raise was oversubscribed: “We weren’t even sure we’d be able to raise $30 million. And then to actually get to 38 million pounds then $50 million, which was over our initial hard cap of 35 is, is really, really big.” All of the fund was raised on video calls during the 2020 pandemic.

Geared as a ‘first-cheque’ seed fund, Ada is trying to tackle that thorny problem that to a large extent the VC industry itself created: the ‘mirroring’ that goes on when white male investors invest in other white men, thus ignoring huge swathes of society. Instead, it’s aiming to invest in the best talent in the UK and Europe, regardless of race, gender or background, with the specific aim of “creating the most diverse pipeline, and portfolio, on the continent”, while tackling issues including mental health, obesity, workers rights and affordable childcare.

It appears to be well on its way. In 2020, Ada invested in eight seed-stage companies tackling the above issues. Four of the eight companies have female CEOs. This brings the total portfolio size to 17, including the ‘pre-fund’ portfolio.

In terms of portfolio progress: Huboo Technologies raised a £14m Series A, which was led by Stride VC and Hearst Ventures; Bubble delivered tens of thousands of hours of free childcare to NHS staff; and Organise grew their members from 70,000 to more than 900,000, and campaigned for the government to provide support for the self-employed during Covid-19.

On Ada Lovelace Day this October, Ada launched its own Angel program, enabling five new Angel investors to write their first cheques. This is not dissimilar to similar Angel programs run by other VCs. It also has a network of 58 ‘Ada Scouts’ resulting in around 20% of deal flow, with two investments now made across the portfolio that were scout-sourced.

This is no ordinary scout network, however. Ada’s Scout community includes the leaders of Hustle Crew, a for-profit working to make the tech industry more inclusive, and Muslamic Makers, a community of Muslims in tech.

In 2021, Ada says it will continue to grow its network of Ada Scouts across the UK, with a focus on the LGBTQ+ community, disabled entrepreneurs, and regions outside of London.

And Scout network is not just ‘for show’, as Warner told me: “We have spoken to the Iranian Women’s Association and Islamic makers and all these groups that are underrepresented within tech and VC. And they bring us companies. And if we end up investing in these companies, we pay them both an upfront cash fee and also a carried interest share. So there are quite a few things that make it distinct from other scout programs. Many other scout programs just take existing investors like existing angels, and give them more capital and double up their investments. We’re actually enabling a whole new group of people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get access to VC. We involve them in our due diligence process, we get their insight into markets that we wouldn’t necessarily understand, like the Shariya finance market, for example. So there are quite a few things that we’re doing differently. And we now have 58 of these scouts, who drive between 10 and 20% of our deal flow on any given month.”

Warner continued: “When we launched we couldn’t have predicted the seismic changes and tragedy brought on by Covid-19, or the social dislocation precipitated by the killing of George Floyd. These events have provided the backdrop of the first year of deployment from Ada Ventures Fund I. In light of these events, the Ada Ventures strategy feels more poignant — and urgent — than it has perhaps ever been.”

In an exclusive interview with TechCrunch, Warner and co-founder Matt Penneycard admitted the fund is not ‘labeled; as an ‘Impact fund’ but that it shares a similar orientation.

Penneycard said: “The difference, the difference is often in the eye of the beholder. In that, it’s the way the investor wants to bucket it. Some investors might see us as an impact fund if they want to, and that’s fine. Other investors see the massive financial arbitrage that you get with a fund like ours, just because you’re looking in very different places to other funds. So, you’ve got more coming in the top of the funnel, if you’ve got a decent process, you should get a better outcome. And so with some of our investors, that’s kind of one of the primary reasons they’re investing, they think we’re going to generate superior returns to other funds, because of where were are looking. It isn’t pure impact. It’s a real fund, it just happens to have the byproduct of quite deep, meaningful social impact.”

Entrepreneurship and investing as social good

2020 has been a year of social upheaval. Around the world, society is identifying different problems in our culture and pushing for widespread change. While there are notable steps we can all take, from altering exclusionary company policies to signing action-oriented petitions, the VC and investment world has another, often overlooked option: Investing in change-the-world startups.

Increasingly, angel investors and institutional funds have begun allocating a portion of their funds to startups focused on diversity and social good, whether focused on democratized access to healthcare and education, or larger scale issues like climate change.

Initially, shifting funds to empower social good may seem like a hefty feat, however investors can embrace this mindshift in three simple steps: (1) redistributing stagnant investments; (2) leveraging democratized access to change-making startups; and (3) identifying founders tracking toward success.

Allocating more investments to foster change

Most of the world’s money is tied up in stagnant places. Whether invested in real estate, bonds or other traditional vehicles, this capital typically often shows conservative returns to investors — and has negligible impact on society. The intent isn’t malicious.

Most family offices and private wealth managers strive to minimize losses and these sorts of uniformed portfolios are safe. Even the most seasoned investors should incorporate more variety into their portfolios, determining where they can make profitable investments that yield higher returns while advancing societal good. Investors can take small steps to get more confident in expanding their strategies.

To start, reframe your thinking into seeing the potential opportunity rather than the risk. A good way to do this: Look at how high-risk public equities performed over the last five years and compare it to ventures within tech. Investors will see a significant disparity and the opportunity to make different returns.

The idea is not to put an entire profile in a single venture. Rather, an investor should take a portion of their portfolio in a high-risk investment sector, like public equities or fund structures, and put it in a similar risk profile with a better return. Gradually increasing these increments, starting at 15% and slowly scaling up, can help investors to see outsized returns while making a difference in the process.

A world of passion at your fingertips

For startups of all sizes, democratized access to investors will accelerate the use of capital for social good. Until recently, only the world’s wealthiest people had exposure to premium capital, but crowdfunding and accelerator programs have ushered in new opportunities, forging connections that might not have otherwise been possible.

These avenues have opened new doors for investors and startups. Access to developed networks or innovation hubs like Silicon Valley are no longer make-or-breaks for those looking to raise capital. Extended global opportunity for startups also means investors have more options to find promising ventures that align with their values, regardless of their location.

But while crowdfunding and accelerators have made the world more accessible, they come with sizable challenges. Despite making early-stage investment more obtainable, crowdfunding often does not bring the most valuable investors to the table.

Crowdfunding also inundates platforms with poor-quality deal flow, making it more strenuous for investors to connect with fruitful opportunities. Meanwhile, various accelerators and incubation platforms have emerged, which have advanced global connection, but tend to be quite noisy.

To succeed, entrepreneurs need more than capital. Rather, they need strategic support from experienced investors who can help them make decisions and scale in an impactful way. With a world of ideas at their fingertips, investors should take time to sift through their options and find the ideas that move them the most, prioritizing quality deals and looking toward platforms that curate promising connections.

Empowering entrepreneurs poised for success

Now is the right time to invest in startups. People who innovate during the pandemic have triple the hustle of those who build in safer economies. But while the timing is right, it’s equally important that the fit is right. I’m a big believer in investing in potential: Ambition, unwavering tenacity and empathy are desirable qualities that can help bring game-changing ideas to fruition.

If an investor funds a passionate leader with a strong vision and ability to attract talent, then the groundwork is laid to build something meaningful. When considering the change-makers to invest in, ask: Is this the right person to be building this company? Do they have the ability to attract and lead talent? Is the market big enough, and is there a significant enough problem to build a company around?

If the answer isn’t yes to all of these questions, it’s important to gauge if you can see a theoretical exit, or if the company is pre-seed or Series A, if they have the ability to scale to a decent size.

Despite this, investing in startups, no matter how good their intentions, can scare investors. One way to overcome trepidation is to invest in larger-stage startups that seem less risky and then wade into earlier-stage startups at your own pace. Special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) are also becoming an interesting investment option.

SPACs are corporations formed for the sole purpose of raising investment capital through an IPO. The proceeds are then used to buy one or more existing companies, an option that could decrease anxiety for risk-averse investors looking to expand their comfort zone.

Any strategy an investor chooses to embrace social good is a step in the right direction. Capital is a tangible way to fuel innovation and bring about impactful change.

Democratized access to startups yields more opportunity for investors to find ventures that align with their values while diversifying their profiles can provide tremendous results. And when that return means disrupting the status quo and empowering societal change? Everyone wins.