European family offices get serious about backing startups

Photo by Rawpixel/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Rawpixel/iStock / Getty Images

Reluctant in the past, European family offices and family groups are now increasingly backing startups with three deals announced in the last week.

Bim, a Paris-based startup that offers last minute bookings in upscale restaurants, recently received €2.5 million from Financière Saint James, the family office of Michaël Benabou, and two other investors. Benabou made his money as one of the founders of Vente-privee, a French e-commerce so-called “flash sales” business.

Also backing Bim, which was set up by Anne-Christelle Pérochon in 2016, is Yannick Bolloré, chief executive of the communications group Havas Group, which is owned by his family’s holding group, Bolloré.

Announced in the same week was the backing of Movinga, a Berlin-based online relocation service provider company, by Santo Venture Capital, the venture arm of the Strüngmann Family Office, the investment group of the Strüngmann brothers. Andreas and Thomas Strüngmann sold their generic drug business in 2005 for $7.5 billion. Santo was part of a Series D €22 million investment with two other backers.

Also getting backing from a family office was a Moscow and London-based startup called Sum&Substance, which is an online identification and verification business using artificial intelligence. Backing the startup is UCP Investment Group, effectively a closed multi-family office representing the investment interests of Ilya Sherbovich and some of his colleagues at United Financial Group. Sherbovich was one of the biggest shareholders of UFG, which was sold to Deutsche Bank in 2006.

Unlike their US counterparts, European family offices and family-connected investment groups have for the most part been reluctant to back startups, preferring established private businesses, public equity and debt, and property. This appears to be changing partly as the culture around startups broadens and deepens in Europe.