Endless summer

The sights, sounds and smells of this year's Investor AllStars awards.

The sights, sounds and smells of this year’s Investor AllStars awards.

Well it’s not quite summer anymore but we are still basking in the afterglow of a great summer, if not the weather, after a spectacular Olympics as well as the Jubilee.

And once a year, the European venture community gets together to celebrate its laureates at the Investor AllStars. This was the 10th anniversary of the event, which is the closest thing we have to the Oscars for the VC community.

In fact, a prominent West Coast VC attended with me a couple years back (he had worked at CAA in Beverly Hills, so he knows something about these things) and said he was hugely impressed by the production quality of the event itself and that it beat similar events in the Valley.

My highlights

Frédéric Court is a multifaceted and multilingual rising star from Advent Venture Partners. While there was great competition from the field, he emerged from the judging to win Investor of the Year. I know Frédéric and can compliment him for his multi-sector skills and the impact he has had on his fund with multiple exits to count. We will hear a lot more from him in years to come.

Live interactive voting by the attendees was used for a couple awards. Best of all was for the Investor of the Decade prize, with the duo of Danny and Neil Rimer deservedly winning it. Having had a string of successes including Betfair, MySQL, Skype (twice) and LastFm amongst others, they have demonstrated an ability to develop great entrepreneurs and at the same time build a strong and effective partnership.

I know the brothers well and have been privileged to be on boards with both of them at various times. Not only should they be commended for their VC work, but also for giving back to the community as they are also involved in significant pro-bono activities.  

The Private Investor Network of the Year had some great submissions but BEER & Partners scooped the accolade. They are a powerhouse for the amount and depth of the businesses they finance, not just in technology. While most VCs operate in a more rarefied high-tech space, part of the market is finding smaller amounts for a lot of growing companies below the VCs’ radar. This is where all the jobs get created, in small and medium-sized businesses. Certainly not just small BEER.

Service Provider of the Year Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has had a year which saw its full UK banking licence brought in. Now our companies finally have a place to put their funds. Don’t laugh; it has been a problem even getting banks to take funds in this environment and opening deposit accounts has been a nightmare. I know the community will welcome SVB’s full banking services having pushed for them to do this for years. We are finally getting the ecosystem we need in Europe.

Venture Capital Fund of the Year went to SEP, also sometimes known as Scottish Equity Partners. I asked someone there once ‘how is Scotland?’ and he replied: ‘I dunno, I’ve never actually been there!’ They are viewed as very smart money, doing few deals but always thinking about whether the additional investment will yield a return. Their discipline shows in exits, the stability of the team and the ability to raise new funds. Aye Scotland!

Sven Lingjaerde received the Outstanding Contribution award. He deserved it along with his merry team who run the European Tech Tour, a self-sustaining group that organizes events to the far flung reaches of Europe and promotes European technology companies. No one has done more to promote European technology, in my humble opinion, and Sven is a super nice guy to boot.

Since ultimately the biggest stars are the portfolio companies and entrepreneurs themselves, we were happy to see Holly Tucker & Sophie Cornish of notonthehighstreet.com win Entrepreneur of the Year. Certainly it was hard work to get to where they are after six years.

I save the keynote speaker for last. Sitting at the head table was Katherine Grainger, the Great Britain, double sculls, 2012 gold medal winner! The FT Weekend just had a nice article on Katherine and amazingly the article comes across just like her in real life. She’s a very dedicated, very driven and very intelligent. Afterall, she is completing her PhD in homicide.

Katherine gave a heartwarming keynote and just talked about her achievement, the pain of the loss in Beijing and the triumph that was London. The training that went into it all and the sacrifice. It was all worth it.

VC has similarities to the Olympics. The training is mostly by doing, however, and the coaching is not always consistent. There are many surprises and reversals and hopefully one gets better with years of practice. Generally it’s a team sport but venture capital looks more like a Marathon then a sprint these days.

So what to make of all this? The VC and entrepreneurial community appear alive and well. In fact you wouldn’t think there was a recession judging from the mirth of the SRO crowd and amount of refreshments being consumed.

Further anecdotal evidence is that I have had the opportunity to serve on three different judging panels recently including the Investor AllStars, judging both companies and VCs.

Every sector seems to have its stars and there are many interesting companies which are literally flying, all over Europe, with a surprising dose from the Nordics. They are from web to cleantech, e-commerce to mobile. If you saw what I did, you would conclude that the scene is very healthy indeed and that Europe is creating great companies. In fact, top American funds increasingly seek to invest in these companies.

The 1966 surfing film, Endless Summer, was about surfers searching for the perfect wave and keeping the momentum going. I can tell you that many of us in Europe are surfing the wave of the good feelings engendered at this late summer awards ceremony, and will ride those waves all the way to success. 

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