Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, famous for being the former owner of one of the world's best-known football clubs, Chelsea — and more recently for being under sanctions from the UK government — has also dabbled in startup investments via an offshore fund.
Abramovich has long been described in the media as a backer of Moscow-based fund Impulse VC. But Impulse itself rarely appeared as a shareholder on startups’ cap tables, meaning there was a certain level of intrigue to the company’s investments. The exact nature of Abramovich’s link to the firm was also never spelled out.
A document, included in a cache of leaked files from Cypriot law firm Meritservus Ltd and seen by Sifted, shows the fund through which Abramovich’s money flowed — and reveals the name which actually appears on cap tables.
The document, dated from 2019, describes Abramovich as the ultimate beneficiary of a fund called Innes Worldwide Holdings Limited, a British Virgin Islands-based entity.
Sifted was able to identify Innes as a shareholder in four UK companies previously listed as Impulse investments in press releases or on its website (which Impulse wiped in the weeks following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine). Three of them are adtech companies.
The invasion also prompted Abramovich to transfer assets out of his direct ownership, to protect them from sanctions — meaning it’s not clear who controls Innes today.
The startups which received backing from Innes include:
Innes holds a 24% stake in UK adtech company Adludio according to its latest filings, from November last year. Adludio is an AI-powered platform that helps companies deliver mobile advertising.
Adludio was known to be an Impulse VC investment. Grigory Firsov, cofounder of Impulse, was on the company’s board, but left in March last year, the same month that Abramovich was sanctioned by British authorities.
However, documents show that Innes remains on Adludio’s cap table today. Other investors include Balderton, Seedrs and Passion Capital.
When asked if Adludio was aware that Innes was linked to Abramovich, the company said it had “taken advice on this matter and at all times acted in accordance with government and legal guidelines”.
Fellow UK adtech Locomizer also has Innes on its cap table. Locomizer describes itself as a “spatial bioinformatics company”. It collects mobile GPS data on consumers in a specific physical location, creates profiles of them and allows companies to target advertising to people in that location.
“Locomizer can create accurate profiles with up to 400--metre accuracy around a point,” its website says.
Locomizer’s latest filings, from June 2022, show that Innes owns 17% of the company. Alexei Poliakov, founder of Locomizer, is from Russia. The company’s website lists offices in both London and Tokyo. The company did not respond to a request to comment.
London-based LoopMe is another adtech company, which says it uses AI to improve the advertising performance of brands.
Financial filings show Innes owned a 8.13% stake in LoopMe in October 2021. In January 2022, private equity firm Mayfair Equity Partners bought a majority stake in LoopMe. Sifted understands that, after the deal, Innes’s stake is now less than half a percent. LoopMe declined to comment.
Branching out from adtech, Innes has also backed HomeShift, a London-based startup working on tools for consumers to manage their energy, internet, council tax and water bills.
Innes first appeared on HomeShift’s cap table in 2016. The company’s registered name is LawDeck. In its latest financial filing, from March 2022, Innes owned a 16% stake. HomeShift did not reply to a request for comment.
Ervington and Norma
Alongside Innes, it’s previously been reported that Abramovich used two other vehicles to invest in companies: Ervington Investments and Norma Investments. Control of both funds was transferred to fellow Russian billionaire and business partner David Davidovich — who is also under UK sanctions — in February 2022, Reuters reported.
Ervington was a big backer of Yandex, putting $600m into the Russian search engine in 2020, Reuters reported. In the UK, Ervington put money into Weedingtech, a herbicide-free weed control product.
As of July 2022, Ervington owned a 1.2% stake in Weedingtech, according to the startups’ filings. Other investors include British financier and environmentalist Ben Goldsmith. Weedingtech declined to comment.
Lawyers for Abramovich and Impulse did not respond to requests for comment.