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Stefano Bernardi becomes first Atomico angel to launch own fund

Unruly Capital will back "weird stuff", Bernardi says

By Freya Pratty

Stefano Bernadi

Self-described “crypto-anarcho-eco-capitalist” Stefano Bernardi, who’s been quietly angel investing for the past few years from his home in the Italian mountains, has raised a new VC fund. 

It’s called Unruly Capital and it’ll invest in, as Bernardi puts it, “weird stuff” — mainly climate and deeptech. 

He’s got €18m to deploy after a first close, but says he might push that to €25m by the end of the year. Bernardi is the sole general partner at Unruly Capital — part of a growing crowd of European investors opting to raise and run a fund all by themselves. 

Bernardi’s past antics include advising Stripe, writing for TechCrunch and betting early on Ethereum. Now he’s backing algae, nuclear, insects and psychedelics. 

The first Atomico angel with a fund

Bernardi’s been angel investing full time for the last five years, through his holding company, Smallholding, and through the Atomico angel programme. He’s the first Atomico angel to launch their own fund (though Sifted understands the pack will be growing soon). 

His angel investments have seen him back companies like forest monitoring startup Pachama, mycelium startup Mushlabs and Heart Aerospace, which is working on electric aircraft.

“I’m basically out of excuses not to do a fund,” Bernardi says.

Bernardi describes Unruly Capital as him continuing to angel invest but asking LPs to tag along. “It’s not like we’re here building the next Atomico or something like that,” he says. 

Unruly’s LPs include European VCs and funds of funds, as well as family offices and other GPs. Among them is Albert Wenger from Union Square Ventures, Boris Wertz from Version One, Hunter Walk from Homebrew and Ryan Hoover, the founder of Product Hunt. 

Advising Stripe, betting on Ethereum

Pre-investing, Bernardi’s had a long and varied career.

He started out writing about startups — first for his own blog and then for TechCrunch. He did a stint in Silicon Valley, working as the first employee of a startup, founding Kickpay — a hardware financing company — advising Stripe and eventually starting his first fund, Mission and Market.

In 2016, Bernardi moved back to his native Italy. That same year, Ethereum launched, which Bernardi had backed early on.

“It exploded a bit in my hands,” he says. There began a crypto phase, with Bernardi writing an early crypto newsletter and raising a crypto-focused fund, Semantic Ventures, with two others.

Bernardi says he didn’t want to become a general partner at Semantic, however, because he didn’t want to commit to only backing crypto companies. “I’m the biggest crypto advocate that you will find, I’m also interested in other things,” he says.

‘I’m just interested in what’s coming next’

The new fund will invest globally — though because of Bernardi’s location he says Europe makes a lot of sense. The fund’s standard cheque size is €250k, either leading a pre-seed round or tagging along in a seed round.

The bulk of what Bernardi is investing in at present is climate tech but the fund is a generalist one and he’s willing to follow whatever game-changing companies emerge.   

“I’m investing in weird stuff now. I do deep tech, nuclear, insects, algae, aeroplanes,” he says. “It just so happens that over the past few years, the most interesting things were in climate for me.” 

Bernardi says he expects climate to remain high up his investment agenda, but that he’s also backed things like psychedelics, an MRI machine company, spacetech and drug discovery. 

All of the angel investments Bernardi made this year now fall within the Unruly portfolio, including nuclear startup Renaissance Fusion, bioreactor company Union Bio, electric heating startup Heatrix and Global Otec, which is working on geothermal without drilling.

‘Everyone and their mum is launching a climate fund’

Bernardi’s fund is coming out of the woodwork amid the flutter of other climate tech funds which have emerged in 2022. 

That’s not necessarily a good thing he says — it could mean tech that shouldn’t be hyped gets overhyped, and that strong deals get too expensive to make money on. 

Bernardi is emphatic that he doesn’t want to be boxed into any particular thesis — though he does say there’s an overarching set of beliefs behind how he invests, things like the need for energy independence, reshoring, developing advanced materials and “sustainable everything”.

Beyond that, Bernardi wants to leave his investments open to being convinced by founders and their visions. 

“The way the world will look is not yet written,” he says. “The job of the VC is to find people with the energy to shape it into their own vision.”

Freya Pratty is a reporter at Sifted. She tweets from @FPratty and writes our climate tech newsletter you can sign up here

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