Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

A Visit With the European Startup Community

My wife, Ann, and I took a trip this past spring to visit Estonia, Finland, Ireland and Russia. The goal was to share our experiences in the realm of angel investing with an array of global audiences, by participating in various lectures, discussions and workshops. In all four countries we met passionate entrepreneurs who were eager to discuss their exciting startups, as well as angel investors looking to support them.

Upon arriving in Dublin, we were met by our hostess, Diane Roberts, for a leisurely drive to Belfast. We had a lovely time in Northern Ireland.  The following day, I delivered a four hour workshop on capital sources and pitch strategies for fifteen entrepreneurs in the Propel program.  Later that afternoon, we visited the phenomenal new Titanic Experience – Not to be missed! We finished our first full day at a dinner with Halo, the Northern Ireland Business Angel Network (Alan Watts).  I enjoyed giving a short interview on BBC radio the following morning, after which a dozen Halo members participated in a workshop I led on portfolio strategy and post-investment relationships. Finally – after that workshop at the impressive Northern Irish Science Park – we took a picturesque train ride back down the coast to Dublin.

On Wednesday, April 18th, I gave a keynote speech on US Startup Valuation Trends  for the 1st Irish Angel Meetup.  Two hundred angels, entrepreneurs and members of the startup community attended this inaugural event. It was organized by Diane Roberts of Xcell Partners and held at the StartupBaseCamp accelerator in Dublin.  In the afternoon, I led a master class for thirty prospective members of the new Colman Investors, focusing mostly on how angels can work together in groups more efficiently; afterwards, we heard pitches from two entrepreneurs.

On Thursday, I spoke to entrepreneur groups at both the National Digital Research Center and the DIT Hothouse. Topics of conversation included how to identify fundable companies, trends in funding, business plans, and pitching to investors.

In addition to enjoying the delightful pubs and restaurants, some Dublin sightseeing highlights included visiting Newgrange, touring the Old Jameson Distillery, and watching the live musical comedy “Legally Blonde.”

Between Northern Ireland and Ireland, I spent nineteen hours in front of audiences, while delivering eight lectures and workshops to one hundred and sixty-two entrepreneurs and one hundred and ninety angel investors.

In Moscow, we attended the twelfth annual Congress of the European Business Angel Network, held April 23-24, at the Digital October technology entrepreneurship center.  Three hundred and twenty-five delegates participated in an interesting program highlighted by a gala awards dinner boat cruise on the Moscow River, with Frank Peters acting as master of ceremonies.  Philippe Gluntz, President of France Angels, was honoured as the 2012 EBAN Angel of the Year, while the Finnish Business Angel Network (FiBAN) was recognized as Business Angel Network of 2012.  Views of the Moscow Cathedral, the Kremlin and Red Square were marvelous from the cruise ship.

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, located just across the Bay of Finland from Helsinki.  We arrived from Moscow on April 25th; the following day, I spoke on Raising Money to Go Global at StartSmart, a conference held at an incubator and innovation center named Technopolis Ülemiste.  One hundred and fifty entrepreneurs and community members attended the monthly conference, which alternates between Tallinn and Helsinki.   On the 28th and 29th, I lectured and mentored more than a dozen entrepreneurs as part of the University of Tartu’s DDVE program, led by Mart Kikas.

On May 2nd and 3rd, I led workshops for about thirty Estonian investors on syndication, due diligence, valuation and the post-investment relationship with entrepreneurs. Over dinner the next day, I assisted these Estonian angels in a screening session of three entrepreneurs who pitched interesting startups.  These efforts were organized by Merit Imala and the Arengufond Estonian Development Fund team.

We found Tallinn to be both a delightful place to visit and the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe.  Great museums, a large section of the 14th century city wall, wonderful cobbled streets and delightful restaurants are all within a short walk of modern hotels.  We also discovered that Estonians love to sing.  The Tallinn Song Festival Grounds provide a stage for fifteen thousand singers to entertain audiences of over one hundred thousand people.

In Estonia, I was in front of audiences for twenty-one hours, while delivering seven workshops and lectures and mentoring twelve entrepreneurs.  Audiences totaled over three hundred and eighty entrepreneurs, investors and members of the startup community.

A two hour ferry ride across the Bay of Finland carried us from Tallinn to Helsinki. On the morning of Monday, May 7th, I led a workshop on angel groups for an audience of about seventy investors and entrepreneurs organized by the award-winning Finnish Business Angel Network (FiBAN).  That same afternoon, FiBAN organized a two-hour workshop on Due Diligence in the offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The following morning, I delivered a workshop on Valuation and then spoke about United States Startup Boards to two hundred delegates attending the Boardman conference (Boardman is Finland’s leading corporate governance organization) in Finlandia Hall.  In the afternoon, I spoke to forty entrepreneurs about how to pitch investors,  then coached seven entrepreneurs on their presentations at Finvera.  The evening was capped off with a reception attended by one hundred and twenty-five leaders of Helsinki’s entrepreneur/investor community at the historic Nordea Bank facilities. After a day of touring Helsinki, I delivered a workshop on exits the following Thursday morning.

Afterwards, I held a pitch session at which four entrepreneurs presented to thirty angels (plus visitors) in the Startup Sauna, an accelerator located at Aalto University.  After formal presentations, I had an opportunity to meet many of the fine teams there at a casual BBQ.

The highlight of Friday, May 11, was participating in a panel discussion on how to encourage entrepreneurship in Finland. I was joined by Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen at the new parliament facilities before an audience of about one hundred and fifty.

Ann and I had the pleasure of glorious Spring weather in Helsinki.  We enjoyed a delightful harbor cruise  and walked along Esplanade Park from the wonderful Hotel Kamp, taking in the views from Palace Restaurant, the Torni Tower, and many other sites in the city.  Ann visited Aniola Villa, the home of famous Finnish composer Aino Sibelius, about thirty minutes outside of Helsinki.  Then, on Friday, May 9, our hosts treated us to a wonderful piano concert of Sibelius compositions at the new Helsinki Music Centre.

Our FiBAN hosts – led by Claes Mikko Nilsen, Feodor Aminoff and Jan D. Oker-Blom – treated us like royalty during our visit.  Overall, I spent twenty hours in front of audiences totaling nearly eight hundred people. I delivered six workshops, mentored a dozen or more entrepreneurs, and was the subject of five press interviews.

St. Petersburg
We ended our European stay with a train ride to beautiful and historic St. Petersburg, the northernmost city in the world with a population exceeding one million.  From our small hotel near Nevsky Prospect, we were able to visit most of the sites in or near the central city, including Peter and Paul Fortress, the Church of Our Savior on the Spilt Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral.  We enjoyed a boat ride on the Neva River, as well as walking/auto tours with angel investors Dmitry Rumyantsev and Michael Podgaiets.

We visited four countries in Europe over a month-long visit.  In total, I delivered twenty-one lectures and workshops, conducted ten press interviews, participated in four panel discussions, and mentored over two dozen entrepreneurs. I spent sixty hours in front of audiences totaling about sixteen hundred angels, entrepreneurs and members of the entrepreneur/investor community.

Written by Bill Payne

user Bill Payne Angel Investor ,
Frontier Angel Fund

Bill Payne has been actively involved in angel investing since 1980. He has funded over 50 companies and mentored over 100. He is a founding member of four angel organizations: Aztec Venture Network, Tech Coast Angels, Vegas Valley Angels, and Frontier Angel Fund.

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One thought on “A Visit With the European Startup Community”

  1. Petri Lehmuskoski says:

    Thank for your time here in Finland. Your advises were extremely valuable and you inspired us. Hopefully we see you sometime soon back in Finland