While the founder-to-investor pathway is well-trodden, it’s not often we see investors swap funding for founding companies instead. Yet in the midst of the current downturn, some VCs are eying up an opportunity to dive into entrepreneurship.
Former SaaS investor-turned-founder Chloe Burles says she has seen a lot of her industry colleagues leave investing to build their own companies.
“A lot of people who joined the industry at the same time as me from places like London Business School have already left their funds to [found companies],” she says.
Sifted spoke to many other investors who pointed to this becoming a more common career path.
Experience as a funder proved beneficial in the founder role, as did the networking skills, market knowledge and investing know-how they picked up during their VC tenure.
Sifted has scoured LinkedIn to gather a list of nine investors who have recently moved from investing to found their own companies.
Burles says that her previous position as an investor at B2B SaaS fund SuperSeed helped her see an opportunity emerging to build in AI.
“Working as an investor in B2B SaaS and AI, which wasn’t as popular back then, I could just see this wave of opportunity coming,” she says in an interview with Sifted. “And it was just too much to ignore.”
Burles left the fund in August last year to found her own B2B AI startup, Astronome AI. She and cofounder James Troughton have received backing from Entrepreneur First.
The team is currently focused on building out the project further from Balderton’s Launched@Balderton program, a co-working space in the firm’s office for pre-seed and seed-stage founders. Burles said that the information on Astronome AI’s website is outdated but declined to share further details on the startup. She also didn’t answer when asked about the firm’s funding plans.
During her stint at Octopus Ventures, Natasha Jones split her time between fintech and climate tech investing.
Since leaving Octopus Ventures in April 2023, Jones has doubled down on her climate tech credentials and founded solar energy startup Metris. According to its website, Metris aims to smooth the onboarding process for property owners and tenants using commercial-scale solar panels by handling “everything from onboarding to operations, billing and payments”. It’s currently on waitlist. Jones confirmed that the information on Metris’s website is correct.
Per Companies House filings, Metris has also incorporated in the US as a Delaware C-Corp. The startup declined to comment on its funding plans.
Berlin-based Jorge Fontúrbel began his venture capital career at Target Global, where he invested in grocery delivery startup Flink and oversaw the portfolio acquisitions of Drover by Cazoo and Circ by Bird during his four-year tenure.
He also lent his previous experience at Amazon — where he launched the fashion categories in Spain and Italy — to Target’s 2021 investment in Branded, which acquires and partners with top-selling brands and sellers on its ecommerce platform.
Fontúrbel decided to parlay this experience and found his own startup Merchlink, an invite-only network aiming to connect digital brands with each other to foster cross-selling opportunities.
The startup closed a €2m pre-seed round led by Target Global with support from angel investors. The startup operated in stealth until this summer.
While receiving funding from a former employer was a full circle moment for Fontúrbel, he says he was initially nervous that Target wouldn’t back his ecommerce startup.
“I was a bit nervous that it wouldn’t happen,” he says. “It might be seen as a bad thing if you’ve been working at a fund for four years, you go out there, try to raise money but then the investor that knows you the best doesn’t want to back you.”
Target agreeing to invest in Merchlink meant that Fontúrbel could avoid any tricky questions about its involvement when talking to other investors.
After spending much of his career at investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, Marcus Webber dived into venture by taking on an investing role at London-based web3 accelerator Outlier Ventures.
Since October last year, Webber has been focused on building a “regulated asset and wealth management platform in the digital asset industry”, catered towards institutional investors, per his LinkedIn.
He did not respond to a Sifted request for an interview.
Maryam Mazraei joined UK seed-stage fund Ascension as a senior associate in 2020, investing predominantly in creator economy, direct to consumer and web3 adjacent startups.
Having started her first business at age 18, it wasn’t much of a surprise to her former colleagues at Ascension when Mazraei left the firm at the end of 2021 and started building her own startup, Crowdmuse in May, 2022. She has since raised a $170k pre-seed round for the web3 creator economy startup.
While Mazraei affirms that experience building companies is largely more useful as a founder, she says that her experience as a VC not only enabled her to understand what it’s like on the other side of the term sheet but also provided a network that she can make use of as a founder.
“If you come [into entrepreneurship] as a first-time founder without much of a network, you’re going to struggle,” she says.
Nico Albanese, who worked with Mazraei while at Ascension, also left the firm in July this year. During his five years at the UK seed fund, he invested in startups such as fashion rental platform HURR, dating app Thursday and retail SaaS platform ZigZag Global, which was acquired by tax refund firm Global Blue in 2021.
He declined to speak to Sifted, saying that he was too early in the building phase to speak further.
Paris-based Martin Trouillet worked as an investor and operator before making the jump into entrepreneurship, per his LinkedIn profile.
As investment director at the venture arm of crowdfunding platform Anaxago, Trouillet backed three companies that were later acquired, including AI accounting platform Inqom, which was bought out by Norwegian business software corporation Visma in 2022. He later held a sales director role at edtech 360 Learning before joining the spring 2023 cohort of startup accelerator Antler to workshop his company in the sustainability sector.
Martin did not respond to a request for comment.
After taking part in a year-long Included VC fellowship in 2019, a programme for aspiring VCs, Prague-based Ana Wolsztajn took on a hybrid role straddling investor and chief marketing officer roles at early-stage fund Kaya VC. The fund has backed startups such as healthtech unicorn Docplanner and was a seed investor in Czech online groceries startup Rohlik, which later raised a $231 million Series D in June 2022.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Wolsztajn left Kaya at the beginning of this year to build a stealth startup. She declined to provide further details when contacted by Sifted.
Diego Vega worked as a senior associate at seed/Series A VC Breega between 2021 and 2022. The Paris-based fund has backed firms such as investment platform Moneybox and robotics startup Exotec.
Vega is also an angel investor in EV charging app Bonnet, according to his LinkedIn, and has been working on building a startup in stealth since January. In December last year, a company named Landslide Energy Ltd was incorporated on Companies House under Vega’s name.
Per a UK government release, Landslide Energy Ltd took part in the Green Home Finance Accelerator, which offered grant funding to green finance projects. The listing described the startup as providing homeowners with access to smart home retrofit design and financing. It also said that the platform could be used by authorities to track the return on investment for such initiatives and its impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
Vega declined to speak to Sifted due to the early nature of the startup and didn’t respond when asked to confirm the information about Landslide.