May 24, 2024

European angel investing grows up

The UK still leads when it comes to the total amount invested by angels — but smaller countries are catching up.

Zosia Wanat

4 min read

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I spent the first three days of this week in Tallinn for the European Business Angels Network (EBAN) Annual Congress — a gathering of national business angel associations and private investors for networking and discussing the latest investment trends. Estonian folk dancing was also on the itinerary.

From the conversations I had there was one theme that kept coming up: angel investing in Europe is growing up.

There are more than 40k angel investors in Europe, according to Janne Jormalainen, EBAN’s president. It’s fewer than in the US, but it’s a number he says is growing by “a few percentage points per year”.


I used to think that the classic angel investor was an old, rich man who didn’t really know what to do with their excess wealth and by chance started tech investing. But that image was dispelled in Tallinn.

I met the members of national associations, angel syndicates and funds who want to make the group more professional and make better and more informed deals. There were also startup founders there who angel invest — including Estonian superapp Bolt’s Martin Villig, Latvian print-on-demand platform Printful’s Davis Siksnans as well as Finnish supply chain and retail planning platform Relex’s Michael Falck —  proof that the European startup flywheel is working.

One of the main missions of EBAN is to support the professionalisation of angel investing. It’s an umbrella association for national angel networks, which helps its members learn how to make better deals, organises networking events, facilitates peer learning and shares best practices for investing.

“How we do angel investments today is very different than it used to be many years ago,” Jormalainen told me. “It was more random. People who were interested in private investing invested into something that they found through TechCrunch, or whatever. But now there's a lot more professionalism in planning and implementing investments.”

A lot more angels are investing in syndicates or funds, which mitigates risk. They’re also building portfolios of companies with a 10-year returns horizon, rather than making the odd investment.

“Properly investing as an angel is a full-time job. And most of the angels cannot afford it,” said Petr Sima, a cofounder of DEPO Ventures, a Czech angel fund, which invests in early-stage startups. “The majority of angels who we can see here [at the congress] are the full-time angels, but Europe needs a hundred times more — so investment funds for angels and co-investment funds for angels are something that I hope will be growing more.”

According to EBAN’s latest statistics from 2022, the UK is still a leading country when it comes to the total amount invested by angels, followed by Germany and France. But smaller ecosystems like Lithuania and Ireland are catching up and noting strong growth in the activity of angels. I’ve also heard that in Greece it’s common for early-stage deals to see two or three angels interested, whereas three or four years ago it was odd if you got more than one.

Fintech and B2B SaaS were the two most popular sectors for angel investment in 2022. But that has likely changed in the last two years. Judging from the conference’s insights, the hottest topics are, understandably, AI and defence tech.

EBAN’s other goal is to share knowledge about angel investment with national and European regulators, advocate for tax breaks and benefits and make sure governments don’t make rules which could harm investment activity. We saw the impact bad policy can have in Europe earlier this year when proposals by the UK government — which were later reversed — would have seen the number of people (especially women) eligible to invest in startups drastically reduced.

One of the biggest obstacles for angel investors in Europe, however, are the different investing rules and tax systems across countries, said Jormalainen.


“What we would like to have is to have a very unified investment market in Europe, because that is what the US has,” he told me.

“We have so much money in Europe which is not in productive use — be it pension money, be it life insurance money, be it money lying in people's bank account,” he said. “My mission is to move part of that into developing the economy, to have it invested in startups, into innovative companies. The European economy will look very different if we can do that — it doesn't have to be a big percentage, but even if we can have 5% of that money, the whole economy in Europe could be completely different.”

I left Tallinn convinced that we need to talk more about the role angel investors play in the European ecosystem — and that I should probably start investing myself. But I want to know your thoughts too. Are you an investor who’s come across the barriers that stop angels from deploying their money across Europe?  What’s your opinion on where Europe’s angel ecosystem is right now? What are the biggest success stories? And how can we grow the number of angels in Europe? Message me here.

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Zosia Wanat

Zosia Wanat is a senior reporter at Sifted. She covers the CEE region and policy. Follow her on X and LinkedIn