Dutch businessman Ben Verwaayen is looking to raise more than €200m to help fund European start-ups in the latest sign of optimism in the continent’s technology sector.
The former boss of BT and Alcatel-Lucent has set up Keen Ventures, a London-based fund management group, to invest in “early-stage technology groups” that have already launched but need help to expand. The company has been co-founded by Mr Verwaayen’s son, Robert, and Alexander Ribbink, the former chief operating officer of TomTom, the Dutch satellite navigation company.
Keen will be joining an already crowded funding market. Venture capital has been pouring into Europe’s tech scene, with the continent’s start-ups beginning to regularly draw “growth” funding rounds of $10m or more.
According to analyst group Go4Ventures, European start-ups received $808m during growth funding rounds in 2010. By 2013, this figure had increased to $1.9bn and is projected to rise to $3.5bn by the end of this year.
In London, the focal point of tech investing in Europe, each of the last six big venture capital funds to launch raised $100m or more, according to a recent Financial Times analysis. Since the start of 2014, close to $900m has been raised for tech funds in the city.
Among the newcomers are 83North, a $200m fund set up by Greylock Partners, one of California’s leading venture capital firms, and Google Ventures, the investment arm of the US technology group, which has set up a London-based fund worth $125m.
Mr Verwaayen’s venture intends to back companies in European and North American technology clusters with a particular focus on fostering transatlantic growth. He said that the group would not just provide funding, but more importantly would aim to provide access to a network of talent and experience.
He also stressed that he did not want to expand European groups that could then be sold to American rivals. “If the fund did well but all the companies were simply bought by US groups, then I would see it as a failure,” he said.
Mr Verwaayen is one of the best-known executives in European telecoms but his career has not been always been considered a universal success. While he masterminded plans to develop BT’s broadband business, which have since proven to be the bedrock of its more recent achievements, he struggled to turn round lossmaking Alcatel.
Keen is particularly interested in markets such as next generation networks, internet of things, big data, analytics, robotics and smart devices.
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