Most corporates don’t invest in startup seed rounds.
At this early stage, the companies are usually still pre-revenue, they may only have a prototype ready and it can be difficult to predict when they will be ready to commercialise their technology.
It can require a lot of patience to be a seed-stage investor, longer than the 3-5 year strategic plans that big corporates tend to work to.
For all these reasons, corporate investors typically tended to be seen in Series C and later rounds.
However, rapid advances in areas like AI and sustainability have meant that companies are having to get involved with startups earlier and earlier. Many companies are becoming conscious that they need to get a head start in disruptive technologies.
These are the corporates that are active in seed rounds — having done at least one such deal in 2021, based on data from Dealroom. Sifted also took a look at what startups doing deals with these corporate investors can expect from the relationship.
Participated in deals worth €312m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Menlo Park, US.
Invests in: space tech, quantum computing, hydrogen, robotics and even some outliers like hemp.
The fund had a handful of new investments in June, ranging from a seed round for C12 Quantum Electronics, a French startup developing quantum processors using carbon nanotubes, to taking part in the Series B round for German rocket launch company Isar Aerospace.
Airbus Ventures often invest in the early-stage rounds for startups and will occasionally go up to a Series C with startups it has backed.
Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund
Participated in deals totalling €232m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Ingelheim am Rhein, Germany.
Invests in: a broad range of healthcare, from immuno-oncology to microbiome to digital therapies and patient management.
People to know: Frank Kalkbrenner, global head of fund.
Its most recent investments include Topaz Therapeutics, a German startup developing treatments for autoimmune disease and allergies and Dopavision, a Berlin biotech company tackling myopia. BI invested in Dopavision from the seed stage.
BI Venture Fund tends to come into investments at the seed or Series A round and then will usually follow on until the Series B and occasionally a Series C. The parent company, Boehringer Ingelheim will buy some of the portfolio companies. Recent acquisitions include a €1.2bn deal for NBE Therapeutics in 2020, Amal Therapeutics (2019) and Vira Therapeutics (2018).
Danone Manifesto Ventures
Participated in deals totalling €24.8m in the last 12 months.
HQ: New York, US.
Invests in: Food-related startups from alternative protein to probiotics and urban farming.
Danone’s most recent seed investment was in Ready, Set, Food, a US startup developing a system that reduces the risk of babies developing food allergies. It tends to invest in US companies, although the portfolio does include a handful of French startups and one in the UK (Moju, seed round in April 2020).
Danone occasionally acquires the companies the fund has invested in. It acquired coconut water company Harmless Harvest earlier this year, three years after first investing in the company and it also bought speciality pasty startup Michel et Augustin in 2019.
Future Energy Ventures
Participated in deals totalling €32.7m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Essen, Germany.
Invests in: AI, data, energy platforms, smart packaging, smart home technology, building management.
The investment arm of E.ON tends to come in at the seed and Series A stage and rarely does follow-on investments beyond the Series B stage. It has never had one of its portfolio companies bought by E.ON. The portfolio is more weighted towards European investments although it does also regularly invest in US startups.
Participated in deals totalling €32.9m in the last 12 months.
HQ: London, UK.
Invest in: Mobility-related startups, from insurance to ride-hailing. Like many automotive companies, it has recently been looking at sustainability startups.
InMotion’s most recent seed deal was investing in Caura.com, a platform for managing car-related payments like parking, tolls, congestion charges, vehicle tax and insurance. The fund tends to invest in the seed and Series A stage, but will occasionally make big bets on later-stage startups. For example, it went in on the Series G funding for ride-hailing platform Lyft, ahead of the company’s IPO.
Participated in deals totalling €38.1m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Paris, France.
Invests in: insurtech and healthtech startups.
Kamet, the venture arm of French insurer AXA, is more of a venture studio than a straight corporate venturing unit. It tends to build companies from scratch, looking to plug the gaps it sees in the insurance and healthcare markets.
Kamet will give the companies it builds a certain amount of seed funding and sweat equity — like set-up help, advice, office space — and then will quickly look to bring in other investors.
One of Kamet’s most recent seed investments was in NSure.ai, a startup providing AI-based fraud protection for gift vouchers, airline tickets and sports and concert tickets, which see high levels of fraud.
Participated in deals totalling €367m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Copenhagen, Denmark.
Invests in: Logistics-related startups, from electric trucks to logistics platforms and even IoT for tracking goods.
Maersk Growth is the investment arm of AP Moller-Maersk. One recent seed investment was Torch Logistics, a network for short-haul carriers for goods. Maersk Growth invests in some seed and Series A rounds but also at the Series B and C stage. For example, Maersk Growth recently backed the $200m Series C round for IoT chip company Williot.
Investments are fairly evenly spread between Europe and the US, with a handful in other regions. The portfolio currently has 25 companies and there have been 2 exits including the sale of ZigZag Global to Global Blue, a deal understood to be in the region of $70m.
Participated in deals totalling €219m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Hellerup, Denmark.
Invests in: early-stage Nordic biotech companies.
Novo Seeds is the early-stage investment arm of Novo Holdings, set up in 2017 with a mission to nurture and grow Nordic biotech companies. While Novo Holding’s later-stage investments are purely financial, aimed at making as much of a return as possible for the foundation owned pharmaceutical giants Novozymes and Novo Nordisk, Novo Seeds takes more of a strategic role.
The fund backs different kinds of teams. One is classic academic spinouts based on university research. Another is spinouts from the pharmaceuticals industry. Søren Møller, managing investment director, says the team would also like to act as a venture builder, creating companies themselves.
One of the most recent seed investments was in Chromologics, a Danish startup using fungal fermentation to create natural food colourants.
Propel Venture Partners
Participated in deals totalling $655m in the last 12 months.
HQ: San Francisco, US.
Invests in: Fintech companies.
BBVA’s investment arm was set up in 2016 and has so far invested in more than 40 startups, with a heavy focus on the US and Latin America. The fund tends to invest in seed and Series A deals, but will sometimes follow-on fund bigger rounds. It took part in the Series E round for Hippo Insurance, for example. The portfolio now includes a number of unicorns, including Coinbase, Hippo and Neon.
BBVA recently pledged a further $150m in funding to Propel Venture Partners — including a $50m fund this year and similar-sized funds in both 2022 and 2023. This takes BBVA’s commitment to $400m in total.
One of the most recent seed deals was an investment in Embedded Financial, a Vancouver-based company that provides execution, clearing and settlement technology for fintech companies.
Sabadell Venture Capital
Participated in deals totalling €61.3m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Barcelona, Spain.
Invests in: Mainly Spanish startups with a few rare exceptions.
The investment arm of Banco Sabadell focuses on investing in Spanish startups at seed and Series A stage, but will occasionally follow on investments beyond that. It offers both venture capital and venture debt deals. The fund has invested in a very broad range of startups, from insurtech to ecommerce, marketplaces and food delivery.
Recent seed deals include an investment in Ritmo, a startup providing growth capital to ecommerce vendors and a venture debt deal with Student Finance, a fintech offering novel educational funding.
Out of a portfolio of around 50 companies, so far there have been 7 exits.
HQ: Courbevoie, France.
Invests in: startups in the construction sector, circular economy, building performance and supply chain.
Although the world’s largest building materials company has had a venture arm, NOVA, since 2006, it has tended to either sign partnership deals with startups and make acquisitions rather than taking minority investments.
However, recently Saint-Gobain has made a number of early-stage investments, including stakes in EcoDrop, a startup handling construction waste, ToolBelt, a platform connecting builders and subcontractors, and Homeys, an energy efficiency startup.
Participated in deals totalling €619m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Cambridge, US.
Invests in: early-stage biotech and digital therapy companies that are of potential interest to Sanofi.
The corporate venture arm of Sanofi invests a lot at the Series B and C stage but is also interested n seed and Series A rounds. One of its recent seed-stage deals was an investment in Therini Bio, a startup researching treatments for dementia. It has had 6 exits from a portfolio of 32 companies, so far.
Telefonica Innovation Ventures
Participated in deals totalling €103m in the last 12 months.
HQ: Madrid, Spain.
Invests in: Startups related to the telecoms sector, including IoT, blockchain and a lot of cybersecurity investments.
Spanish telecoms company Telefonica invests in startups in several ways — both through a network of VC funds and directly through two investment arms: Telefonica Innovation Ventures and Telefonica Tech Ventures. Innovation Ventures focuses on next-generation networks and digital customers, while Tech Ventures invests in areas such as cloud, data, cybersecurity and the internet of things.
The investment tickets for Innovation Ventures are typically €150K to €6m. A recent seed investment was in Monogoto, an Israeli startup working on securing private 5G networks.
TotalEnergies Carbon Neutrality Ventures
Participated in deals totaling €139m in last 12 months
HQ: Courbevoie, France.
Invests in: startups developing low-carbon technologies, looking at everything from alternative fuels to circular economy, smart energy and mobility.
The corporate venturing arm of energy company Total tends to come in at the seed and Series A stage, but can occasionally take part in rounds from Series C and beyond.
One of its most recent seed investments was into Shyft Power Solutions, a US-based startup making software and hardware to manage distributed energy systems.
Out of a portfolio of more than 45 startups, the fund has seen 12 exits, including the recent IPO of Volta, the EV charging network operator, on the New York Stock Exchange.
Maija Palmer is Sifted’s innovation editor. She covers deeptech and corporate innovation, and tweets from @maijapalmer.
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