Global VC and company builder Antler is doubling down on Nordic startups, as it sees increasing applications to its accelerators from former startup employees amid a turbulent time in the talent market.
Today, Antler has announced a new €150m fund to invest in the region, of which it has closed €50m so far. The new fund will be five times larger than its previous €30m Nordic fund, which closed in 2021.
It will focus on startups in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, where Antler already has offices, as well as tapping into the Finnish market, where it will open an incubator next year.
The Antler programme
Unlike most startup incubators and accelerators that take applications from new companies that need help shaping their business idea or finding investment or product-market fit, Antler takes on board individuals who want to build a company but perhaps don’t even have a clear idea of what they want to do or a cofounder to do it with.
It’s most similar to London-based talent investor Entrepreneur First.
Antler’s six-month programme is set up to match founders and create an environment for them to come up with a startup idea.
In the first three months, participants need to find a cofounder and come up with an idea.
In the following three months, they are expected to create a minimum viable product so that they can pitch their startups to the Antler investment team, as well as external investors, once the six months are up.
Participants are given some cash — but not a whole lot. In 2019, when the company builder had recently opened in Stockholm, participants were given a grant of $4,000 a month for the first two months. Now, founders are given one grant of €1,500 mid-programme.
According to Antler, the grant decreased because it was not a deciding factor for founders when choosing to apply to the company builder.
The growing interest from wannabe entrepreneurs
Since Antler launched in the Nordics five years ago, it’s received 13,650 applications from aspiring founders.
The downturn has had a positive impact on applications, says Kristian Jul Røsjø, partner at Antler. For the Nordic cohort that started in August, Antler received more than 3,000 applications — up 49% from two years ago.
“It feels bad to be happy about the downturn and the recent layoffs, but we’ve been looking at these numbers week by week to see how it will impact what we are doing. At least for us, in terms of number of applications and quality, it’s been positive,” says Jul Røsjø.
For the current programme, we’re well above 60% with people with startup experience
The number of applications from former startup employees has increased almost fivefold since tech companies started making big layoffs last year, according to Antler. Applications from Klarna, for example, increased almost fourfold in 2022 after the fintech announced redundancies.
In the latest Nordic cohort of 192 participants, the attendees come from a wide range of tech companies including Klarna, Kry, Zettle, Spotify, Epidemic Sound and Otovo.
“For the current programme, we’re well above 60% with people with startup experience. They’ve either built one or two companies or they’ve had operational roles at successful startups,” says Jul Røsjø.
Antler as an investor
Antler’s first Nordic fund has invested in 144 early-stage startups in the region.
Startups currently on Antler’s programme will receive €100k from the second fund, in exchange for 10% of the company.
“We invest at such an early stage, so we couldn’t go in and take 2%. We need to have decent ownership that we can continue to protect,” Jul Røsjø says. “We think we’ve struck a good balance — we want the majority of the ownership to be with the founders and post a Series A [funding round], they will have a healthy ownership, 40% or more.”
The new fund will enable Antler to make larger investments, too, to protect its equity stake.
“We started out owning 10% of the companies and if we continue to own 10% across seed and maybe pre-Series A, it will be a healthy size,” says Jul Røsjø.
For later or larger rounds, Antler can tap into its global fund, Elevate, to invest up to Series C. This was its approach when Norwegian fintech Two raised an €18m Series A earlier this year.