Venture Capital – PE heavyweights get up to speed

Speed Ventures, a venture capital/incubator company founded two years ago in Sweden, has attracted a70 million ($75 million) of first round equity investment in what it claims is one of the largest fundings so far seen for a European incubator. Given the recent proliferation of e-space incubator and fund propositions, and the volumes of cash such offerings have attracted, the bewildered observer might be forgiven for judging the quality of the concept by the names that have stumped up hard cash. By this admittedly crude yardstick, Speed Ventures emerges as one of the more credible incubators on the scene. Not only does Speed Ventures date from 1998 – a lifetime ago in Internet time’, which some might sadly yet come to call dog years’ – but its multiply-oversubscribed financing round also drew capital from private equity and other investors who have been around the block a few times. Leading Speed’s investor line-up are Charterhouse Group International, Schroder Ventures and Soros Private Equity Partners; other participants include Chase Capital Partners, Chase H&Q Access Technology Partners, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns Merchant Banking, Thomas Weisel Partners, Sonera and Arctic Ventures.

In view of its Scandinavian roots, it comes as no surprise that Speed Ventures emphasises its focus on the Mobile Commerce’ sector as well as the broader Internet space. Niclas Gabran of Soros Fund Management asserts that Speed is “ideally positioned to capture a large portion of the huge market opportunity in the Internet and Wireless industries”. Schroder Ventures’ Richard Sanders, meanwhile, describes Speed as by far the most impressive incubator … established to date’. Meanwhile, Charterhouse Group International chairman Merril Halpern comments: “Speed Ventures represents an opportunity to capitalise on the rapid development of the Internet in Europe by investing in one of the few incubators pursuing a truly pan-European strategy”. “We look forward to participating in follow-on rounds of investment in businesses incubated by Speed,” he adds.

Headquartered in Amsterdam and with bases in Stockholm, Helsinki, Munich and London and with further SpeedHouses’ shortly to open in France, Italy and Spain, Speed Ventures provides full-service’ incubator support spanning accommodation, recruitment, legal, marketing, IT, corporate finance and administration, sourced from a stable of best of breed’ supervisors. “We have already attracted 25 portfolio companies, 55 employees and more than 500 staff in the whole group – therefore taking a significant lead in the whole market” says Speed Ventures’ CEO Anders Frisk.

Speed Ventures aims to become the first global incubator’ – perhaps an elastic target – and in pursuit of this goal will use some of the new funding to support the opening of further offices internationally.

Among Speed Ventures’ investees/incubees to date, the best known are probably in the e-commerce sphere and, in the enabling technologies arena,