Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, has committed to investing €1bn of his fortune in European deeptech ”moonshot projects”.
“We all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital. And that is why I'm sharing today that I will devote €1bn of my personal resources to enable the ecosystem of builders,” he said during a fireside chat this afternoon at Node by Slush.
“And I will do so by funding so-called moonshots focusing on the deep technology necessary to make a significant positive dent, and work with scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to do so,” he added.
Prior to expressing his plans to invest €1bn over the next decade, Ek spoke of his desire to make Europe as great as the US when it comes to backing brilliant companies.
“Europe needs more super companies, both for the ecosystem to develop and thrive. But I think more importantly if we're going to have any chance to tackle the infinitely complex problems that our societies are dealing with at the moment, we need different stakeholders, including companies, governments, academic institutions, non-profits and investors of all kinds to work together,” Ek said.
Ek, who managed to keep Spotify from being acquired before going public in 2018, is upset that so many European founders get the advice to sell their startup.
“I get really frustrated when I see European entrepreneurs, giving up on their amazing visions by selling very early in the process... We need more super companies to raise the bar and act as an inspiration,” he said.
It isn’t any kind of startups that Ek wants to invest in but he is looking at moonshot projects, i.e. companies working on ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking solutions with hardly any chance of near-term profitability or financial return. In most cases, these startups fall under the deeptech flag. Ek mentioned machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as some of these areas.
“There's lots and lots of really exciting areas where there are tons of scientists and entrepreneurs right now around Europe.”
A genuine interest in healthtech
This is not the first time Ek has shown an interest in areas other than streaming. Speaking to the FT in 2013, he declared that in the future we would look back at how doctors treated us now as “close to witchcraft”. Instead of mass-produced medicine, he predicted doctors would use patients’ DNA to personalise care.
He also mentioned that he spent his spare hours reading up on genetics and DNA sequencing but that the technology wasn’t where it needed to be. That was seven years ago — and technology has advanced since then: one example of this is Crispr-CAS9, the DNA technology that can be used to edit genes.
Perhaps it was this jump in technology Ek was waiting for.
At the fireside chat, he mentioned that we need a more holistic approach to global problems.
“Instead of finding a singular solution to a problem we need to think about a system-wide solution, healthcare is a great example of this. There are many structural problems in healthcare and just like we did with Spotify, you need to go, piece by piece and create something that actually is a win-win for all stakeholders.”
Early this year he bought a small stake in the Swedish telemedicine startup Kry for €16m, when the healthtech company raised a €140m Series C round.
A year earlier, in early 2019, Ek started an artificial intelligence company along with Swedish entrepreneur Hjalmar Nilsonne. The company, named HJN Sverige, will develop products and services which will help doctors to detect diseases earlier, when they are easier to cure. So far, Ek has invested approximately €3m in the startup.
Ek hasn’t only invested in healthtech startups though.
In 2016, along with his Spotify cofounder Martin Lorentzon and angel investor Shakil Khan, Ek invested in the British online housing marketplace, Student.com.
It wasn’t a surprising investment — one of the cofounders of the site is a former Spotify executive.
Later the same year, Ek’s fianceé, now wife, Sofia Ek, invested in the Swedish blood testing startup Werlabs, through Ek’s offshore account in Cyprus. Cyprus is known to be a tax haven for wealthy individuals and the account that Ek set up in 2011, has been used for the investments in Kry, Werlabs and Student.com through his company D.G.E. Investments.