There are plenty of ways to assess venture capital firms. Some have enormous amounts of cash and others have heaps of household names in their portfolio, some have very shiny offices and throw excellent parties, others are “founder friendly” and like to write Medium posts.  

Data platform Dealroom has, however, ranked Europe’s Series A investors by how many unicorns they have in their herd. It’s looked at the number of companies in each venture capital firm’s portfolio that are either “realised unicorns” (i.e. companies which were sold or went public at a valuation over $1bn), “unrealised unicorns” (i.e. private companies in their current portfolio which have a valuation of $1bn) or “future unicorns” (i.e. private companies in their current portfolio which are valued between $250m and $1bn and showing fast growth). 

But, because there’s more to Europe’s startup ecosystem than its unicorn count, we’ve added a bit of colour to the ranking. 

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We’ve spoken to the venture capital firms, delved into what value (aside from cash) they offer to startups — and spoken to the founders who work with them. 

Here’s what you need to know about the movers and shakers in Europe’s venture capital world. 

1/ Index 

Photo of Index partners Danny Rimer and Martin Mignot
Index partners Danny Rimer and Martin Mignot

Latest fund size: $1.25bn (July 2018)

Focus: US and Europe; sector-agnostic; from seed to growth. Series A (€5-8m).

2019 investments: 27 new companies

Gender split of investment team: Partners: 8 men, 2 women; wider investment team: 7 men, 6 women

Number of unicorns: 14 (exited); 7 (valuation $1bn+); 14 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Payments company Adyen
  • Open-source search startup Elastic
  • Digital bank Revolut
  • Digital payments provider TransferWise

What they say:

“Success takes more than money. That is why we believe, quite simply, that our USP is our people. Other firms invest in deals, Index invests in people. A deal is transactional. 

Relationships endure, and ours are based on curiosity, thoughtfulness, and deep conviction. The relationships we build with, and for, our pioneers is a real point of difference.”

What we say: 

Index is one of the old guard of venture capital in Europe — the London and San Francisco-based firm was founded in 1996 and is still widely considered to be top of its game, despite now facing a whole lot more competition from younger venture capital firms on the continent. 

Index has chosen to champion stock option reform; last year it founded Not Optional, a pan-European initiative to change the laws surrounding employee stock options across the continent. It’s flexed its lobbying muscles and called upon its extensive network of well-known founders to call for change from European legislators — and in January saw its first victory, when President Macron announced changes to the French stock option scheme. 

On diversity, Index has been a long-term member of Level 20, an organisation seeking to improve gender diversity in private equity. It also runs an internship programme for young people who didn’t go to university with portfolio company WhiteHat.

It does, however, have a male-dominated partnership and some founders report that its team is hard to approach unless you already know the ‘right’ people — although Index says that it “welcomes direct approaches at many of the events we attend or via email and social media”. 

Like most big funds, Index runs regular events for portfolio companies — and offers support on hiring, communications and business development. 

What the founders say: 

“Index is a great software investor, lots of experience in digital products.” (Founder, portfolio)

2/ Accel

Accel team photo
Accel’s London partners: (from left to right) Luca Bocchio, Luciana Lixandru, Harry Nelis, Seth Pierrepont, Sonali De Rycker, Andrei Brasoveanu and Philippe Botteri.

Latest fund size: $575m (May 2019)

Focus: Europe and Israel, Series A ($5-15m).

2019 investments: 30 

Gender split of investment team: Partners: 5 men, 2 women; wider investment team: 9 men, 2 women

Number of unicorns: 8 (exited); 11 (valuation $1bn+); 22 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Car pooling platform BlaBlaCar
  • Music platform Spotify 
  • Digital health startup Kry 
  • Second-hand clothes marketplace Vinted 

What they say: 

We are the only Silicon Valley venture platform on the ground in Europe. Having recognised the global opportunity early on, we pioneered a new approach to investing of regional funds in a global platform, opening our London office 20 years ago and our Indian office over 10 years ago. With teams on the ground, local decision making happens quickly, while together, we provide access to talent, information, insights and network globally. Decades of experience in each market mean we’ve seen the growth journey before, and have pattern recognition around what it takes to build a global business.”

What we say:

Accel’s big sell is its name, its network and the enormous expertise of its partners. Thinking of expanding to the US? Accel has seen heaps of European companies do it already. Planning on bolstering your management team? Accel can advise on the profiles to hire. Interested in learning more about how another company optimised sales? Accel probably has a contact there. 

The firm also runs small- and large-scale events for its portfolio to encourage companies to share best practice. 

Accel is thesis-driven, which means the team identifies specific trends it’s especially interested in — such as small and medium-sized enterprise software — and then tracks down all the relevant companies in that area. Here, the European team’s colleagues in Asia and North America come in handy too; they can compare notes on those markets too. 

Partners Sonali De Rycker and Luciana Lixandru are widely considered to be some of the best venture capitalists in Europe — and rumours are swirling as to whether Lixandru will be snapped up by US venture capital firm Sequoia as its London partner. 

What the founders say:

“Although Index and Accel are amazing, they are also super unapproachable for most entrepreneurs. They all require very warm introductions, whereas some of the other VCs are more accessible.” (Founder, non-portfolio) 

“Ridiculously lux office (try and pitch them just to see it). Great team, very smart. Really like Sonali and Seth.” (Founder, non-portfolio) 

“Martin Gibson is an operating partner there who we have been working with over the last few years and is brilliant (and unsung!)” (Founder, portfolio)

3/ HV Holtzbrinck Ventures

Photo of HV Holtzbrinck Ventures founder partner Lars Langusch
HV Holtzbrinck Ventures founder partner Lars Langusch.

Latest fund size: €306m (2018)

Focus: Europe; sector-agnostic; Seed and Series A (€0.5m-5m).

2019 investments: 14 new (69 follow-ons)

Gender split of investment team: 8 partners, all men.

Number of unicorns: 6 (exited); 3 (valuation $1bn+); 9 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Bus booking platform Flixbus 
  • Food delivery platform Delivery Hero 
  • Second-hand clothes marketplace Depop 
  • Travel company Tourlane 

What they say: 

“With 20 years of experience in backing game-changing European unicorns and the ability to invest up to €50m per company, we are uniquely positioned to support exceptional entrepreneurs to realise their daring vision.” 

What we say: 

German venture capital fund HV Holtzbrinck Ventures started life as the corporate venture arm of the publishing group Holtzbrinck, and spun out as an independent firm in 2010.

In its portfolio are many of the big names from Germany’s startup scene — such as Zalando (which it first invested in at seed), Flixbus and Outfittery. It has two offices, in Munich and Berlin, and invests primarily in Germany. 

It runs events for founders and supports several German universities, with the aim to strengthen the relationship between startups, venture capital and academia. On the diversity front, it’s doing poorly. “We are looking at diversity in general and are striving to build a diverse investment team,” HV says.

What the founders say:

“HV is probably the best company builder with the most extensive network in Germany.” (Founder, portfolio)

4/ Northzone

Photo of The Northzone team
The Northzone partners: (from left to right) Marta Sjögren, Jeppe Zink, Pär-Jörgen “PJ” Pärson, Jessica Schultz, Paul Murphy and Michiel Kotting.

Latest fund size: $500m (Nov 2019)

Focus: Europe and the US; sector-agnostic; Series A (€2-20m) and B.

2019 investments: 12 (including seed) 

Gender split of investment team: Partners: 2 women, 6 men; wider investment team excluding partners: 50% female

Number of unicorns: 6 (exited); 2 (valuation $1bn+); 7 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Scooter startup Tier
  • Payments company Klarna 
  • Review platform Trustpilot
  • HR tech startup Personio 

What they say:

“We have always stood behind strong-minded founders with the ambition to think big and the conviction to build transformative businesses.”

What we say: 

Northzone is a venture capital firm run by founders, as well as bankers — and it’s proud of its partners’ operational expertise. Half of its investment team are former founders or operators, including Jessica Schultz, cofounder of HelloFresh.

Despite starting out as a Nordic fund in 1996, half of its investments are now made in the UK, where the majority of its team are based. A third of its investments are into Germany. 

Like many funds, Northzone prefers to invest around themes it’s looked into closely. At the moment, these include mobility, future of work, direct-to-consumer, travel and artificial intelligence in healthcare. Around a third of its deals relate to these themes at the moment, partner Paul Murphy told Sifted — but the team would like it to be more like 100%. 

Along with many of the funds on this list, Northzone is part of the Diversity VC internship scheme, which seeks to bring people from a wider range of backgrounds into investment. Partner Marta Sjögren has been outspoken on the need for venture capital firms to hire more female partners. With more women on the team, she’s seen Northzone’s pipeline also become more diverse, she said: “The more diverse we became, the easier it became to become even more diverse.”

What the founders say:

“Michiel Kotting really stands out — he is very hands-on, has a strong commercial mindset and very actively supports the growth of our company.” (Founder, portfolio)

5/ Balderton

Photo of The Balderton team
The Balderton team.

Latest fund size: $400m (Nov 2019) 

Focus: Sector-agnostic; Europe; Series A ($5-15m)

2019 investments: 15

Gender split of investment team: ⅔ male, ⅓ female. All of the partners are male, bar one. 

Number of unicorns: 4 (exited); 3 (valuation $1bn+); 13 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Vertical farm startup Infarm
  • Scooter startup Voi
  • Pre-owned fashion marketplace Vestiaire Collective 
  • Security company Darktrace 

What they say: 

“We are founded on an equal partnership, which gives each of our companies full access to the combined insight, knowledge and experience of all of our partners.

We have two decades of experience working with hundreds of extraordinary European founders from Series A onwards.

We are the most active European investor at Series A. Our focus on this stage gives us a unique understanding of the challenges founders face at this critical inflexion point.”

What we say: 

Balderton is a big presence in London’s startup scene because it’s been consistently doing what it does best — investing in top Series A startups — for yonks. The firm first got going back in 2000 as Silicon Valley venture capital firm Benchmark’s European offshoot, before launching independently as Balderton in 2007. 

Like all of the London-based firms on this list, Balderton is blessed with fantastic dealflow; its strong brand means it sees (or at least, thinks it sees) just about all of the deals in the UK and a high percentage of those in Europe. 

Balderton’s investments (mostly) fall into several themes: open finance, data-driven health, mobility, enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS), food and retail. It frequently holds events and runs open office hours for founders at its office in King’s Cross, doesn’t require warm introductions and claims to read every single pitch that comes in (eventually). 

It has been a big supporter of Diversity VC and Level 20 — two organisations trying to improve diversity within the venture capital industry. One of its most prominent partners, Suranga Chandratillake, sits on the board. “It’s personally important to me as a brown, state-school educated person,” Chandratillake told Sifted. “I don’t like that we continue to see a depressingly narrow band of founder types and archetypes.” 

Last week, Balderton announced that it has hired its first female general partner, Rana Yared, who was previously a growth equity investor at Goldman Sachs. It also announced that David Thévenon, a former partner at SoftBank’s Vision Fund who led investments into Indian ride-sharing platform Ola and southeast Asian everything app Grab, was joining the team. Rumours are swirling that these new additions are signs that one of the other partners is off to join Sequoia as their London partner — but Balderton says no-one is leaving the team.

What the founders say: 

“Great team, really genuinely interested in what they do. Suranga is brilliant.” (Founder, non-portfolio)

“Bernard Liautaud — he’s like a president or minister in his manners, WOW what a network.”

“Bernard Liautaud — he’s like a president or minister in his manners, WOW what a network.” (Founder, portfolio)

“Bernard chased me down — I didn’t actually know who he was then, but I have been so impressed by him and their firm overall. He’s obviously pretty much the most experienced SaaS person you could get on the board, and his words carry a lot of weight. He also has an incredible network we can and have tapped, and is a great mentor to me.” (Founder, portfolio) 

“All funds with partner structures are a bit political (the bigger and more prestigious they get, the more politics so Index, Accel and Balderton probably the most political) which makes them a bit nervous, political sometimes.” (Founder, portfolio) 

“Tim Bunting — he is our board member, and whilst he can be challenging, he is also one of the best people I’ve worked with. Incredibly supportive & pushes us to dream big!” (Founder, portfolio) 

6/ IdInvest Partners

Photo of The IdInvest venture team
The IdInvest venture team

Latest fund size: €350m (Oct 2019)

Focus: Europe; software-as-a-service (SaaS), marketplaces and consumer mobile; Series A ($5-15m) and Series B (up to $30m)

2019 investments: 20

Gender split of investment team: 25% of the investment team are female

Number of unicorns: 3 (exited); 4 (valuation $1bn+); 11 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Photography platform Meero
  • On-demand delivery platform Glovo
  • Advertising platform Criteo 
  • Insect farming startup Ynsect 

What they say:

“In addition to having more than two decades of experience, we’re long-term, deep-pocket, committed and friendly.” 

What we say:

Paris-based IdInvest Partners is the venture capital arm of French private equity firm IdInvest. It has several funds, including one focused on smart cities and another focused on healthcare.

With these thematic funds, IdInvest leverages its investors — which include the likes of French transport company SNCF and petrol company Total — to help portfolio companies with strategy and partnerships. 

It supports various grassroots organisations, such as France-based Sista, which aims to see many more female founders receiving venture capital and more established groups, like France Digitale. 

What the founders say:

“Guillaume Durao is a lovely guy — ex-investment banker so really a great deal-marker” (Founder, portfolio) 

7/ Lakestar

Klaus Hommels, Lakestar founder
Klaus Hommels, Lakestar founder

Latest fund size: €350m (August 2015)

Focus: Fintech, proptech and travel tech; early-stage/Series A (€5-10m) and growth.

2019 investments: 31 rounds (16 new companies) 

Gender split of investment team: 8 male investment partners; three women in C-suite positions.  

Number of unicorns: 3 (exited); 4 (valuation $1bn+); 9 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Digital bank Revolut 
  • Travel activities booking platform GetYourGuide
  • Transport booking platform Omio 
  • Autonomous vehicle startup FiveAI 

What they say: 

Lakestar is embedded in the long-standing personal and professional networks of our team members which gives us senior-level access across a number of industries, as well as political circles across Europe. We excel at using this network to source deals and make introductions for our portfolio companies to accelerate the growth of their businesses. 

On a political level, we regard it as our mission to actively shape the political policies relevant to the development of the European technology ecosystem.

We are able to support our entrepreneurs locally and are passionate builders of transatlantic bridges to help our companies make the leap to a global presence. Especially in the US, we pride ourselves on having access to and syndicating with some of the most renowned and established venture capital firms.”

What we say:

Lakestar is still a relatively new venture capital firm; the Swiss firm launched its first fund (of €135m) in 2013, led by founder Klaus Hommels, an early-stage investor in the likes of Facebook and Spotify. It has offices in Zurich, London and Berlin. 

Questions have been raised about its investment strategy and management in the past, and its plan to raise a $700m+ mega fund (as reported in 2018) has so far not been realised.

The team lectures at universities across Europe, including Humboldt University, and is part of the founding network of the Europe Business School Berlin — but the wave of interest in making investment teams more diverse seems to have passed it by. 

What the founders say:

“Stephen Nundy is one of my fave VCs.” (Founder, non-portfolio) 

“The entire team is very strong. The key person at Lakestar is obviously the founder Klaus Hommels, who is the most accomplished European investor with seed investments in Skype, Spotify, Facebook and many other massive successes.” (Founder, portfolio) 

8/ Target Global

Target Global team
The Target Global general partners: (from left to right) Mike Lobanov, Alexander Frolov, Shmuel Chafets and Yaron Valler.

Latest fund size: $120m (June 2018) 

Focus: Early-stage (€1-3m), growth and mobility startups in Europe and Israel.

2019 investments: 12

Gender split of investment team: Partners: 1 woman, 6 men; wider investment team: more than half women. 

Number of unicorns: 1 (exited); 4 (valuation $1bn+); 9 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Food delivery platform Delivery Hero 
  • Business travel platform Travelperk 
  • Doctor appointment booking platform Docplanner
  • Room rental app Badi 

What they say:

“Truly pan-European, we’re natives in the key hubs and up-and-coming European ecosystems. We are on the ground, close to the founders and well connected in the relevant ecosystems. We are very active investors, hands-on; we think and act like entrepreneurs and help founders actually build the business.”

What we say:

Last year, Berlin-based venture capital firm Target ramped up its European operations: it opened an office in London and set up in a co-working space in Barcelona. It also has an office in Tel Aviv.

In recent years, the relatively new venture capital firm (founded in 2012) has also launched a mobility-focused fund, in a bid to become the go-to investor for startups in the sector. Many of Germany’s big mobility scaleups are in the portfolio, such as car marketplace Auto1, transport booking platform Omio and food delivery giant Delivery Hero.

One of its big mobility bets hasn’t quite worked out, however: portfolio company Circ, the German e-scooter startup founded by Delivery Hero cofounder Lukasz Gadowski, sold to US competitor Bird in January, after failing to raise its next round of funding. Target general partner Alex Frolov told Sifted last year that he was “certain we’ll see less [scooter] players in Europe by the end of this year” — presumably not expecting that it would be his player who first bowed out of the race. Target, however, says it is “happy with the development”. 

What the founders say:

“The team, in general, is a powerhouse of knowledge with building hugely successful online platforms, but more specifically Marie Fabiunke, Target’s vice president of communications, has helped us drive awareness with press intros as we entered the German market.” (Founder, portfolio) 

9/ Atomico

Atomico team photo.
The Atomico team.

Latest fund size: $765m (2017) 

Focus: Europe; sector-agnostic; Series A ($5-15m) onwards.

2019 investments:

Gender split of the investment team: Partners: 6 men, 3 women; wider investment team: 4 men, 7 women

Number of unicorns: 2 (exited); 3 (valuation $1bn+); 7 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Food delivery platform Wolt 
  • Flying car startup Lilium 
  • Semiconductor maker Graphcore 
  • Games company Supercell 

What they say: 

“We believe in a diversity of perspectives when it comes to investing, and research tells us that the most important things to founders are chemistry and alignment of vision. Because 70% of our investment team has experience working in tech companies (versus 4% for UK VCs), we know what it’s like to be there at the toughest times, and are here to share our learnings and mistakes, as well as accelerate the companies we partner with by making sure they don’t make those same mistakes on their journey.”

What we say: 

Atomico is a marketing machine. Its annual State of European Tech report has made it one of the best-known venture capitalists in Europe, along with its famous cofounder, Niklas Zennström, the Skype founder. 

The firm has built a large operational support team to offer founders help on everything from talent to marketing and international expansion. It regularly runs workshops and events for portfolio companies.

The London-based firm has also supported a lot of diversity in tech networks, holding events with communities such as YSYS and Femstreet, and sponsoring Diversity VC to produce a diversity and inclusion handbook for founders. It is now running the second iteration of its angel programme, a scheme to train up new angel investors from a range of backgrounds across the continent. 

Atomico’s team includes Sophia Bendz (a partner, one of Europe’s best-known female angel investors and an early employee at Spotify), Bryce Keane (partner and head of communications, and in a previous life cofounder of the Silicon Drinkabout meetup) and Tom Wehmeier (partner, head of insights and author of the State of European tech report). 

What the founders say:

“Atomico has a very strong, operational team that brings a breadth of relevant expertise and competences to the table and makes these resources very directly available to the portfolio companies.” (Founder, portfolio)

“They are very strong in helping us out on practical stuff”

“They are very strong in helping us out on practical stuff — e.g. hiring etc. with Dan Hynes. Niklas is also amazing and will send influential emails or speak at our conference etc. They also do a lot of networking events where we get to meet the likes of Paul Smith from Salesforce or Ross from Mulesoft and learn stuff. Great firm.” (Founder, portfolio)

“Atomico is a genuinely values-driven organisation — they do care about the environment and the advancement of science.” (Founder, non-portfolio)

10/ Battery 

Photo of Battery general partner Itzik Parnafes
Battery general partner Itzik Parnafes.

Latest fund size: $1.25bn (Feb 2018) 

Focus: North America, Europe and Israel; seed and Series A ($5-15m) to late-stage.

2019 investments: 8 in Europe (including follow-on rounds)

Gender split of investment team: 10% of the partners are women

Number of unicorns: 0 (exited); 5 (valuation $1bn+); 3 (future) 

Notable investments: 

  • Digital bank N26 
  • Prepaid business card startup Soldo 
  • Transport ticket booking platform Omio 
  • Travel activities booking platform GetYourGuide 

What they say:

“Our 37-year history gives us the experience to back top entrepreneurs in many sectors and geographies. We have been around through good and bad markets, booms and busts, and have always adapted to new trends while remaining true to our founding values and principles.”

What we say:

Battery has heaps of cash, impressive companies in the portfolio and a global presence — yet doesn’t generate much buzz. 

This is, in part, because it’s not as immersed in the grassroots of the European startup ecosystem as other funds on this list. It has offices in Herzliya and London, and several investments in and strong links to Berlin, where general partner Itzik Parnafes spends a lot of time. The majority of its investments are made in Israel.

Like many firms, Battery thinks connections to its US team can bring real value to European portfolio firms hoping to expand into the North American market eventually. It also has plenty of experience helping Israeli startups launch in the US (a well-trodden path). 

What the founders say:

“Battery has also shown a true passion for our product and a fabulous ambition for the company.” (Founder, portfolio)

 

Are you a founder who’s pitched to or taken investment from these investors? We’d love to know what you think of them. Email Amy Lewin, confidentially. 

This article was amended on Feb 11 to include more information on Index’s diversity initiatives.

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