Dragons’ Den’s Steven Bartlett on his new VC fund: ‘I’m a failure if we don’t back the next female-founded unicorn’

If you ever want to raise your own venture capital fund, starting a podcast isn’t a bad way to start.

Steven Bartlett, star of British TV phenomenon Dragons’ Den and host of Europe’s most downloaded podcast, The Diary of a CEO, is now raising a $100 million venture capital fund to support start-ups.

And, as is really the zeitgeist in Europe at the moment, its backers are almost entirely current or former entrepreneurs themselves.

“When I talk to friends who have built great businesses here, the comments I’ve heard over and over again are that there’s a certain fatigue and pessimism about taking capital from investors. who aren’t there and who haven’t,” Bartlett said. Thames.

Luckily for him, a serial founder himself, his many hours of podcasting have given him an “incredibly extensive network” of European entrepreneurs – many of whom are now backing his new fund, Flight Story, he says. However, he won’t give us many names, or confirm which share of the fund has been closed. His team insists he has “verbal and contractual commitments for the full amount”.

It will invest in fairly lively areas – biotechnology, blockchain and space – and will seek out underrepresented founders in particular.

“If we don’t support the next woman-founded unicorn in the next decade, I would consider myself a failure with this fund,” he told Sifted.

Scratch the VC itch

As Bartlett admits, raising and managing a venture capital fund takes “a lot of effort.”

Why, then, given that he is already a millionaire, does he care?

“At this stage of my life, making a lot of money doesn’t seem like a big enough motivation to get through hardship,” he says. “My passion in life is building businesses, taking things from 0 to 100.

“It’s going to allow me to use my network, my resources, to build bigger businesses, to accelerate them in a way that I don’t think they could otherwise accelerate.”

He has now spent two years working on this fund – “the funds are much easier to raise when you take huge pools of capital from institutions, they are very difficult to raise when you take small checks from large founders prosperous” – and has three agreements ready to be signed, he says.

Bartlett, who apparently thinks running a venture capital fund is a sideline, estimates it will take up “about 30-40%” of his professional time. His brother, Jason Bartlett, an investor who previously worked for UK pension fund Railpen, also works for the fund. The two brothers previously co-founded another investment vehicle, Catena Capital.

Flight History Fund

The fund will invest between $1 million and $10 million annually in up to 10 early-stage startups based in Europe. A very small part of the fund will be set aside for follow-on investments.

Bartlett’s investors include Alan Barratt, CEO of sports nutrition brand Grenade, and Christian Angermayer, billionaire tech investor and founder of biotech company Atai Life Sciences (a company Bartlett has worked with for several years as an investor and “creative director”, according to LinkedIn). He will no longer share names.

All of its investors have agreed to support portfolio companies working in their areas of expertise, he says.

They will also play a key role in performing due diligence on potential investments. The fund, he says, has a board of “technicians” who have years of experience analyzing companies from a due diligence perspective. That board includes his brother and Andy Leck (chief financial officer of Bartlett’s marketing company, Flight Story).

“Once a company passes that forensic analysis, it goes through an investment committee of me and four other people, and then an LP committee,” Bartlett says. Again, he won’t name who else is on the investment committee other than Angermayer.

The LP committee includes one investor from each of the fund’s (fairly broad) target investment areas – biotechnology, health and wellness technology, blockchain, space, commerce and technology.

Dripping from dealflow

Dealflow won’t be an issue from the sound of things. “We received just under 1,000 incoming requests from entrepreneurs last month for investment or support in some capacity,” Bartlett says.

He also thinks he’ll be able to find the kinds of investments that traditional VCs lack. “The founders we target are generally not looking for capital, but other forms of support – for me to join their board, or for one of our LPs to support their business or open up their network.”

In the coming months, he says he would like to “increase” this dealflow “many times more.”

He also very much hopes to support many underrepresented founders – and says the fund has set “internal targets for the diversity of our allocation in terms of founders”.

“We will publish these statistics on the Flight Story website when the fund begins to close deals and tell the story of the diversity of our investments on our social networks,” he said. “For us, it is an adjacent but important crusade that we are carrying out.”

Amy Lewin is editor-in-chief of Sifted and co-host of Startup Europe — The subdued podcastand writes Turn up, a weekly newsletter on VC. She tweets from @amyrlewin