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One of the biggest developers of Russian internet companies, Fast Lane Ventures, has formed a strategic partnership with VTB, the Russian state-controlled bank, as investor interest rises in Russia’s rapidly-growing internet sector.

Tuesday’s deal in which VTB Capital, VTB’s investment banking arm, becomes the lead investor in an $18m fundraising will give Fast Lane access to VTB Capital’s wide network of corporate clients, and its hefty financial resources. The partnership will also, presumably, help Fast Lane Ventures (FLV) fend off possible aggressive approaches from predatory oligarchs, wanting to snap up the business just as it becomes interesting.

VTB Capital and FLV aren’t saying how big a stake the investment bank has acquired in return for its lead contribution to the capital-raising. VTB Capital’s global head of venture business, Aidar Kaliev, would only say the bank acquired a stake significant enough to grant it one seat on the board. Total investment in Fast Lane has already reached more than $60m with key investors including Direct Group, eVenture Capital Partners, Kinnevik, and Intel Capital.

But Kaliev said the investment was a key move as VTB Capital seeks to expand into the venture business, while FLV has big plans to cement its position as a leading internet company developer in a country where the market is much more under-penetrated than its western counterparts, but growing rapidly.

There are now more than 60m daily internet users in the Russia and rapid growth at more than 15 per cent per year is putting Russia on track to become Europe’s largest internet market in the next year or so.

Fast Lane Ventures (FLV) has already successfully sold and taken profits on two successful startups. Earlier this year it sold Sapato, a pioneering online retailer of footwear to Ozon.ru, Russia’s answer to Amazon.

Marina Treshchova, FLV’s chief executive and a co-founder, said it had also recently sold another start-up, Shopping Live, an online TV shopping venture to HSE-24, Germany’s leading shopping channel.

She won’t disclose the returns FLV reaped in both deals. But one person close to the company said the rate of return was in the triple digits in both deals, while Sapato had attracted investors at a valuation of $50m almost a year before it was sold.

Treshchova says the company’s aim is to get valuations of $100m for the companies it creates within three years of their founding. With 17 such companies already on its books and plans to keep churning them out at a rate of one per month, that’s a lot of dough.

But “given that our western counterparts have valuations of $1bn plus and investment in Russia is ten times lower, this is an achievable target,” Treshchova insists. “Demand far exceeds supply in the area of high quality online services and internet audience numbers are increasing all the time. .. So we think we’re in the right place at the right time.”

Treshchova co-founded the company with Oscar Hartmann, a businessman who founded kupivip, Russia’s answer to Gilt Groupe or Vente-Privee, which allow luxury brands to offload unsold inventory at a discount online. This raised $55m last year, and Hartmann is continuing to rattle off new ideas, Treshchova said.

With local players able to navigate the specific specifics of the Russian market far outrunning foreign internet companies, foreign investor interest is rising.

Stefano Zuppet, global head of TMT Investment Banking at VTB Capital, said VTB Capital’s partnership with the company could help bring more foreign investment into FLV. “This could give some confidence to the international investor base that a platform like this can be one of the entry points for them into Russia.”

Related reading
Russian internet front, FT
Ozon positions for Russian e-commerce boom with $100m funding, FT Tech Hub
Welcome to Russia’s Silicon Valley, FT
Yandex takes on Google in Turkey, beyondbrics

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