One of these three things tend to happen with the wealth of aristocratic families – they lose most after multiple generations of bad management, they marry into new wealth so the money continues a few generations more, or they invest wisely into property, keeping the family fortune intact for many more generations.
Rarely do you get aristocratic families investing in the new and different, or when they do, they inevitably lose their money. But a few are getting wise to the world of venture investing and might just be building a bit of a name for themselves in the sector.
The Duke of Bedford
The Duke of Bedford is among the top aristocratic titles in England, and the family seat Woburn Abbey is arguably one of the grandest stately homes anywhere. But the current Duke – he’s the 15th – Andrew Russell might derive most of his money from land ownership, but he also likes dabbling in venture capital. Apart from having serious money to invest, part of his interest probably stems from when he was an undergraduate at Harvard University.
There he met Tim Disney, the great-nephew of Walt Disney. Years later the two jointly invested in a Massachusetts biotech group called Skyhawk Therapeutics. In fact, The Duke and Disney are among the biggest backers in Skyhawk, participating in a number of funding rounds, including one just last month worth $100 million with four other co-investors, all institutional. The Duke has also invested in another US biotech group called Dragonfly Therapeutics.
Princess Jeannette zu Fürstenberg
The Fürstenberg family are German aristocrats and to prove it they built and live in some pretty substantial castles and palaces in southern Germany and Austria. Probably the most well-known person to bear the name of the family is the German fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg, although she only married into the family and has since divorced from Prince Egon von Fürstenberg.
Jeannette zu Fürstenberg is the member of the family interested in venture. The princess co-founded with Robert Lacher a venture capital company called La Famiglia. Based in Munich, La Famiglia is backed by some of Europe’s biggest business dynasties. Among them are the family owners connected to the giant appliance maker Miele; members of the Siemens family, who are still the biggest shareholders in the huge German conglomerate, the Viessmann family, behind the eponymous German family business, the family behind the Austrian luxury group Swarovski, and family members of the Belgian chemical group, Solvay.
La Famiglia has done a lot of venture investing since it was founded in late 2015, participating in various funding rounds in more than 10 startups. Most recently, it invested in a fintech startup called Coya and co-invested with Valar Ventures, which is backed by, among others, Peter Thiel. So it looks like La Famiglia and Fürstenberg are keeping company with venture aristocracy.
Rodolphe de Spoelberch
The Spoelberch family are among the grandest in Belgium, and up there with the top noble houses of Europe. They can trace their noble lineage back to the 16th century. They have also invested wisely – and not just in property. The Spoelberchs are among three Belgian families who own a sizable chunk of the biggest brewery group in the world, Anheuser-Busch InBev. All in, the Spoelberch family is worth around €15 billion-plus, according to local rich lists. So members of the family can afford to get serious about venture investing.
And Rodolphe de Spoelberch is perhaps the one family member to be doing venture investing – at least directly. Earlier this month, Rodolphe invested in a biotech group called Univercells. He was one of six investors in the Belgian company in a Series A funding round worth €16 million. Like many aristocrats, Rodolphe also likes his art. He is the founder and director of Hangar H18 art centre and Arthus Gallery in Brussels.
The House of Spinola
The Spinola family are synonymous with the Italian city of Genoa, particularly in pre-renaissance years between the 12th and 14th centuries, and parts of the family have held onto their wealth ever since. Today, some family members are linked to Parly Company, a Geneva family office with a branch in Singapore. The Singapore branch is the most interesting in terms of venture. OK, they haven’t done anything direct in venture, or at least, there’s no record of them doing so. But, those who know about their Singapore business, say they have invested in venture funds and look upon the sector with considerable interest.
Perhaps the greatest investors of all time – certainly over the longest period of time, many members of the Rothschild family have always been a step ahead when it comes to investment opportunities like venture. Jacob Rothschild, particularly through his investment trust, RIT Capital Partners, has probably been the most active in venture among the current generation. One of RIT’s most notable successes was an early investment in Dropbox, which had a billion-dollar-plus listing earlier this year.
But not all of the Rothschild family have been successful in venture investing. Jacob’s son, Nath Rothschild, was a backer of a London taxi app called Maaxi back in 2014/15. Today, Maaxi no longer exists.