Looking Back: The First Year in Review by the Newly Appointed CEO Anton Backman

This is a not a guest post, but a personal one. The author, Anton Backman, is the co-founder and newly appointed CEO of Wave Ventures, the Nordics’ first and Europe’s largest student-run VC. He is enthusiastic about games, esports, and about different kinds of incentive and compensation structures in startups. Off CEO duties, he is also an eager freeride skier.

Rounding Up

After a hectic beginning of 2018 with deals closed, new teams met, and portfolio companies aided, it’s time to shift down for a moment and reflect over the first official year of Wave Ventures since our launch in February 2017.

Starting a venture capital fund while still at university definitely gives you an incredible vantage point into how growth companies are built, and how the different parts of the startup ecosystem interact with each other. On the other hand, the constant learning, the work you put into screening new companies, and the time allocated into helping your portfolio companies can seem somewhat endless, meaning that one’s time management skills will be put to the test for sure.

Not only did our portfolio grow from zero to five companies before the first birthday, but we had some amazing additions to the team, complementing the already existing team roster with valuable skill sets. These included our newest Finnish recruit Julia, a people operations mastermind, as well as Rasmus, a metric-driven numbers guy spearheading our Swedish endeavors, and our latest recruit Ludvig, an execution machine constantly strengthening our presence in Sweden.

Our small and dynamic team of startup enthusiasts faced our first major organizational change this January, when our founding CEO Andreas went on to face new challenges as the new head figure of Slush, leaving big shoes to be filled in the fund (luckily though, he did not move on too far as we are still fortunate enough to have him on our board). Jumping in as the CEO, after being a part of Wave Ventures’ journey from starting out as an underdog investor to becoming a recognized player in the Nordic early-stage investing scene, was not something I had planned for, but a challenge I have accepted with utmost excitement of what is to come.

In a nutshell, our first operational year consisted largely of (super early) weekly meetings, an innumerable amount of discussions and follow-ups up with founders, and most importantly: five amazing teams that we decided to invest in and continue to work with.

New Kids on the Blok

The first member to join our portfolio was Blok, a company automating the apartment and house sales process. The team had set their eyes on shaking up a conservative industry that had been lacking any significant technological advancements for several decades. Naturally this resonated with us, as we somewhat challenged the VC status quo ourselves by entering the scene as young investors, in contrast to the more seasoned ex-entrepreneurs, the very archetype of venture capitalists.

Having followed the team’s journey from the very beginning has been an immense learning experience to our team when it comes to building a company from scratch. After two successful subsequent rounds of funding, and earning their place as one of the most interesting players currently on the Finnish housing market, we will continue to follow Blok’s success story with intrigue.

Bold Teams, Bold Tech

The second entrant to our portfolio was the bunch from Carbo Culture, a company upcycling waste into high-value carbon products. The possibility for us to work together with people aiming to solve some of the hardest problems mankind is going to be facing in the future, was definitely something that struck with our values.

After working with the team to have the company relocated to California, and seeing them being fueled by a seed investment round with some incredible backers such as Lifeline Ventures, Bragiel Brothers and Starlight Ventures, we are thrilled to see where Carbo Culture is heading next on their journey to reduce CO2 emissions for good.

Following the Teams with Precision and Care

With two investments under the belt in the beginning of the first year, we were already in the process of closing our third one: Surgify, a company developing solutions to make bone surgery safe. In this case, we had been closely following the team for over a year before investing in them. Having been an Aalto University research project when we first came across Surgify, their eventual spin-out into a medical technology startup marked the starting point for our future collaboration.

A visionary team, bundled together with a rigorous focus on the product, will be the key elements in Surgify’s future endeavors as they set out to become a household name on the global surgery market.

Pause the Game and Take a Look Around You Once in a While

After mainly working together with startups from the university ecosystems and the startup hubs built around them, we started to look more into the wider startup community as a whole, in order to broaden our view on where great founding teams come from. This was when we stumbled upon Quicksave Interactive, a veteran team conquering a major new niche for gaming: games built on instant messaging or chatting platforms.

With years of experience in developing games across a multitude of platforms, and with one exit already behind them, they have shown a deep understanding of how to create captivating games on platforms that offer friends an entirely new way to playing and interacting with each other. With the first game in soft launch and a second one in the making, we are confident that the Quicksave team will be leading the way for chat games in 2018.

From Course Project to Startup

Our initial idea was to find the people and their ideas even before they were companies and established teams. This however, turned out to be harder than we thought. Luckily there are exceptions, as proves the fact that our attendance at the Aalto Ventures Program university course was the kickstart to our relationship with Portyr, a company building the future of personal data by enabling all market players to become GDPR compliant. Intrigued by the team’s pitch, we approached the team suggesting they could think about stepping up a notch and building a company around the project.

Now that the GDPR is looming around the corner, we’re readying ourselves to jump into the trenches with the Portyr team once the real fight kicks in.

Coming Up

After taking a look at the past, it is time to shift our focus back on the present and on the future of Wave Ventures. Finding new groundbreaking teams (such as Sumpli announced last month), and supporting the ones we have already invested in, will still be the core of our operations and the value we want to bring. This, and our ever strengthening position in the Nordics, combined with our active investor approach, will also be decisive factors in the coming years in our ability to remain true to our ethos of backing the boldest and most audacious founders coming from the wider startup ecosystem of the Nordics.

//Anton

To continue the discussion, reach out to Anton directly at anton {at} wave.ventures, or follow @WaveVentures and @backman_anton on Twitter!