May 20, 2024

Maria Rotilu, Europe’s first Black solo GP, announces first close of $10m fund

Openseed is a new solo GP fund to back operator-led startups in Europe and Africa

Amy Lewin

3 min read

Maria Rotilu, founder of Openseedvc

Former Octopus Ventures and Oxford Seed Fund investor Maria Rotilu is raising a fund of her own, Openseed, to invest in operator-led startups in Europe and Africa. She’s done a first close — at “30% of the minimum fund size” — and hopes to finalise the fund at $10m. 

She is, as far as Sifted is aware, Europe’s first Black solo GP — and one of the first female solo GPs in Europe. 

Her strategy is to back businesses even earlier than pre-seed — at the point when the founders might still have other jobs, but are ready to “take the leap to start building [their idea]”, says Rotilu. 


“There’s a huge gap for that kind of investment,” she says — particularly for companies founded by former startup operators. In both Europe and Africa, startup “mafias” are in full flow — with alumni from companies like Nigeria’s on-demand technical talent marketplace Andela and payments scaleup Paystack leaving to start their own thing, as is also happening at businesses like Monzo, Spotify and Revolut in Europe. 

The strategy

Openseed is focused on investing in three broad areas: the future of commerce, health and work. 

But, given how early it’s investing, it’s the team, more than anything else, that sways Rotilu. 

Many of the best founders, Rotilu says, “come with a clear view of what the world will look like eight to ten years from now” — and, even if that view seems counterintuitive, have some solid underlying principles to back up the idea.

They’re also typically “compelling storytellers” and surrounded by equally smart (if not smarter) people. It’s a good sign “when smart, driven, passionate people want to work for this person,” says Rotiliu; “they’re not joining them because of the salary”.

Founders with domain expertise also get a green flag — as do second-time founders, who tend to have much more efficient go-to-market plans, she adds.  

Openseed will write cheques of up to $150k for around a 5% stake in a company, usually investing alongside angels or family and friends. It plans to invest in around 60 companies over a five year deployment period, and typically won’t follow on. 

The Africa angle

There aren’t many European VCs that also invest in Africa — although their number is growing. Partech has a €280m fund to invest in African startups, run by a team based in Dakar. Norrsken Foundation, the Swedish impact investor, has a hub in Kigali, an Africa-focused seed fund and an Africa-focused growth fund, Norrsken22. Luxembourg-incorporated Satgana has closed €8m of a target €30m fund to invest in climate tech startups in Africa and Europe. Austria’s Speedinvest and London’s LocalGlobe have also backed a handful of African startups.

It’s not yet “a common strategy”, says Rotilu — however it did appeal to LPs keen to increase their exposure to startups in Europe and/or Africa. So far, most of her backers are founders, operators and high-net-worth individuals, based in the US, Europe and Africa. 

Amy Lewin

Amy Lewin is Sifted’s editor and cohost of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast , and writes Up Round, a weekly newsletter on VC. Follow her on X and LinkedIn