Venture Capital/Analysis/

Top early-stage investors in the Nordics

Sifted and Dealroom spotlight the top ranked funds in the region

By Mimi Billing

Iventure

The Nordics has one of the most active startup ecosystems in Europe, with some of the continent’s most successful startups — including the likes of Klarna, Pleo, Aiven, and Oda — and 15 more unicorns.

Four out of the five Nordic countries had record-breaking spells in 2021, with the highest aggregate funding ever recorded in the region and some of the largest rounds in Europe.

So which are the top early-stage investors to know in the Nordics, where are they focusing their investments — and how’s the gender diversity of their investment teams?

Today, using data from Dealroom, Sifted is spotlighting the top early-stage investors in the Nordics. You can find Dealroom’s full methodology here, but the rankings are based on the following data points:

  • Number of unicorns in portfolio
  • Number of “future” unicorns in portfolio
  • Number of rounds in the last 12 months

Dealroom has also weighted the rankings by a “dilution score”, so funds that invested in unicorns at seed stage got a higher score than those that got in at a later stage.

The rankings are divided into seed and Series A funds, however, some funds listed are investing at both of those stages.

So, which are the most active and successful early-stage investors in the Nordics?*

Series A investors

1. Creandum (HQ Sweden)

Latest fund: Creandum announced a $500m fund (its sixth) in March, its largest fund to date.

Focus: The Stockholm-headquartered VC focuses on startups in Europe and European founders in the US. Creandum is industry agnostic but with its latest fund it is keen on areas such as the creator economy, Web3, the metaverse, energy and climate tech. It is able to write a wide range of cheques from €500k up to 12m.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 16

Investment team gender split: Partners: 1 woman, 7 men. The wider investment team: 4 women, 7 men.

Notable investments:

  • Swedish fintech giant Klarna (unicorn)
  • German online broker Trade Republic (unicorn)
  • Estonian mobility startup Bolt (unicorn)
  • Swedish telehealth startup Kry (unicorn)

The pitch to founders:

Creandum was founded 20 years ago and was, along with Northzone, the first VC to back Spotify in 2008. And it hasn’t lost its edge since then. Today, it is one of Europe’s best-performing VCs. It has a 10+ years timeframe on its investments with offices across Europe (London, Berlin and Stockholm) as well as in San Francisco to support European founders tackling the US market.

2. Kinnevik (HQ Sweden)

Latest fund: Kinnevik isn’t your typical VC. It’s an investment company with permanent capital and is listed on Nasdaq Stockholm. Its last reported net asset value was €6.35bn (SEK 67.9bn) and it invested €600m (SEK 6.4bn) in 2021.

Focus: With its evergreen fund, Kinnevik invests from Series A to E and writes cheques from $10m to 120m. It’s focused on digitally enabled companies within healthcare, financial services, consumer services and marketplaces and food, in western Europe and the US.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 8

Investment team gender split: Investment directors: 2 women, 6 men. The wider investment team: 44% women, 56% men.

Notable investments:

  • Danish neobank Lunar
  • Danish expense management startup Pleo (unicorn)
  • Swedish foodtech startup Nick’s
  • Danish wine marketplace Vivino

The pitch to founders:

Thanks to its evergreen capital, Kinnevik isn’t under the same pressure as “normal” VC funds to pay back LPs — and can therefore commit long-term to its portfolio companies. By being a large investment firm it also has a big team of supporting staff including sector specialists and ESG support.

3. EQT Ventures (HQ Sweden)

Latest fund: EQT Ventures closed its second fund in November 2019, raising €660m.

Focus: EQT Ventures is a generalist tech fund focused on being a lead investor in early-stage European startups. Series A is the fund’s sweet spot, but the VC can also lead seed or Series B rounds. In terms of sectors, there is an increased focus on climate, food and fintech, but the team is open to backing tech founders in any sector.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 24 (not including follow-on investments)

Investment team gender split: Partners: 4 women, 5 men. The wider investment team: 7 women, 6 men

Notable investments:

  • Swedish transportation tech startup Einride
  • UK-based hardware startup Nothing
  • Finnish VR/AR startup Varjo
  • Swedish fintech Juni

The pitch to founders:  EQT Ventures is obsessed with data and uses its AI platform Motherbrain to help portfolio companies find customers and talent. The VC doesn’t only have a big team of operating partners but is also part of EQT — one of the largest private investors in the world. Through that founders will get access to investment teams across all funding stages and a team of 1,500 people across the wider organisation to help them.

4. VNV Global (Sweden)

Per Brillioth is the CEO of VNV Global

Latest fund: Like Kinnevik, VNV Global is not a fund manager but an investment company listed on Nasdaq Stockholm. This means that all its investments are done from its balance sheet. Its latest published net asset value was $1.17bn.

Focus: VNV Global has, as you might predict, a global focus across all stages from seed to growth. It is sector agnostic but looks for companies that have clear and strong network effects — common in sectors like mobility, digital health and marketplaces. Last year, tickets ranged from $1m to 20m.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 11 (excluding follow-on investments in existing portfolio companies)

Investment team gender split: CEO: Male. The wider investment team: 1 woman, 5 men.

Notable investments:

  • Swedish mobility startup Voi (unicorn)
  • French mobility startup BlaBlaCar (unicorn)
  • Polish beauty marketplace Booksy
  • UK men’s health startup Numan

The pitch to founders: With its permanent capital structure VNV Global can be longer term and more flexible than a typical VC. And given its strict focus on network effects businesses, the team is knowledgeable and has a strong network within this space.

The best of the rest:

5. Alfvén & Didrikson (Sweden)

6. Novo Holdings (Denmark)

7. NordicNinja (Finland)

8. OpenOcean (Finland)

9. HealthCap (Sweden)

👉 Read about the top early-stage investors in:

Seed investors in the Nordics

1. Lifeline Ventures (Finland)

Lifeline Ventures’ founding partner Timo Ahopelto

Latest fund: Lifeline announced a €130m fund (its fourth) in late 2019.

Focus: Lifeline is a generalist fund focused on finding the future unicorn founders in Finland but can also invest outside of Finland when invited by people the investment team know closely. Lifeline usually takes the role as a startup’s first investor in angel or seed rounds, with tickets ranging between €500k and 2m. Over time, it can invest up to €15m in a company.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 7

Investment team gender split: 2 women, 5 men (all can lead investments).

Notable investments:

  • Mobile refurbisher Swappie
  • Smart ring Oura (unicorn)
  • AI company Aiven (unicorn)
  • Finnish space startup ICEYE

The pitch to founders:

Lifeline Ventures doesn’t have anyone focused on its own PR, branding or marketing and is focused entirely on its portfolio companies. It has a great track record of backing the right startups early on — one of them was Wolt. Its pitch to founders is short and sweet — They are the most supportive of the founders in all circumstances.

2. Heartcore Capital (Denmark)

heartcore

Latest fund: Heartcore closed $250m for its latest fund in 2021.

Focus: Although based in Copenhagen, Heartcore has a pan-European focus and a sector focus on consumer-facing products, including B2B2C. It invests as early as pre-seed to Series A with a ticket range of €1m to 6m, depending on which phase a startup is in.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 13

Investment team gender split: Partners: 5 men (no women). Wider investment team: 2 women, 8 men.

Notable investments:

  • Swedish graph database Neo4j (unicorn)
  • German online travel organiser GetYourGuide
  • Danish audio subscription service Podimo
  • German digital therapeutics company Kaia Health

The pitch to founders: ​​
Heartcore’s focus on consumer-led technology is providing strong insights for its portfolio founders. From product building, customer acquisition and retention, to building a superior organisation and culture, Heartcore leverages years of experience to help startups integrate best practices.

3. Seed Capital (Denmark)

An image of the Seed Capital team, one of the top early-stage investors in the Nordics

Latest fund: Seed Capital Denmark closed its latest fund at €140m in 2021.

Focus: Seed Capital is a generalist software tech fund focusing on Danish startups or startups with strong relations to Denmark. It invests in late seed-stage and Series A with a ticket range of €2m to 4m.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 5

Investment team gender split: Partners and the wider investment team: 67% women and 33% men.

Notable investments:

  • Wine marketplace Vivino
  • Neobank Lunar
  • Danish SaaS startup Templafy
  • Sports AI camera VEO

The pitch to founders: Seed Capital Denmark has a strong track record in supporting local entrepreneurs to Series A and attracting international VCs. It’s approach is direct, honest and patient, enabling startup teams to find the right product-market fit before scaling revenues.

4. Inventure (HQ Finland)

An image of the Iventure team, one of the top early-stage investors in the Nordics

Latest fund: Inventure’s fourth fund, of €150m, was raised in 2022.

Focus: Inventure’s sweet spot is startups at seed and Series A. It writes tickets ranging from €1m to 5m, and also helps top talent close pre-seed rounds with cheques starting at €200k. It is a generalist fund with knowledge across all sectors, with more than 80 investments in the Nordics and Baltics since 2005. In 89% of its investments, it was the startup’s first institutional investor.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 5

Investment team gender split: Partners: 1 woman, 5 men. The wider investment team: 3 women, 7 men.

Notable investments:

  • Finnish mobile refurbishing startup Swappie
  • Hungarian self-driving car startup AImotive
  • Swedish fashiontech startup Material Exchange
  • Finnish nanotechnology company Canatu

The pitch to founders: Inventure has a strong focus on talent and international expansion, two of the biggest bottlenecks early-stage entrepreneurs face, and has an in-house head of talent that helps the portfolio with recruitment.

5. Industrifonden (Sweden)

Anna Haupt, investment director at Industrifonden. Photo: Margareta Bloom Sandebäck

Latest fund: Industrifonden is not a normal VC fund but has an evergreen structure with approximately €470m (5bn SEK) under management. The profits are reinvested into new startups.

Focus: Industrifonden is a specialist investor that focuses entirely on startups in pre-seed to Series A within deeptech, transformative tech and life science in Sweden and occasionally in other Nordic countries. The tickets range from €1m to 5m.

Deal count in Europe in 2021: 8

Investment team gender split: 9 men and 2 women (2 more women starting this autumn).

Notable investments:

  • Swedish games studio Fast Travel Games
  • Swedish audiobook subscription Nextory
  • Swedish deeptech startup Peafowl Plasmonics
  • Swedish ecommerce solution Funnel

The pitch to founders: Industrifonden is proud of its internal culture and aims to be curious and unpretentious about the unknown future. As a shareholder, it aims to help entrepreneurs to thrive and succeed, by supporting them with advice, capital and a network of investors and industry experts. The evergreen structure is a unique advantage to be a solid long-term shareholder.

The best of the rest:

6. Norrsken VC (Sweden)

7. Almi Invest (Sweden)

8. Maki.vc (Finland)

9. PreSeed Ventures (Denmark)

10. Spintop Ventures (Sweden)

*Note: Investors with a HQ specified operate in several countries, those without a HQ specified operate solely in that country.

Mimi Billing is Sifted’s Nordic correspondent. She also covers healthtech, and tweets from @MimiBilling

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