_Founders Bridge is a small-cap VC that invests in forward-thinking startups helping them grow. The founding team consists of Adrian Trif, Liviu Munteanu, Daniel Stempa and David Malki. We had a great conversation with Liviu Munteanu, one of the partners and a key representative._
Hello and thank you for participating! How long have you been investing in early-stage companies and how did you first get started?
Hello and thank you for inviting us! Founders Bridge is actively investing in CEE startups exactly since December 2019, so this month marks our second anniversary. Our founders are serial entrepreneurs & angel investors and launching Founders Bridge was a natural next step for all of us; therefore it took a single meeting (mid-2019) to make that happen.
Looking ahead in early-stage investing, what are you most excited about? What keeps you up at night?
We are definitely excited to be in Eastern Europe in these particular times, as the venture capital industry is gaining so much traction riding this unprecedented wave of innovation and entrepreneurship. Obviously, here and now is a great place and time to grow as a VC fund.
Having said that, we are also worried to recognize the signs of an emerging startup bubble: bigger rounds, faster burn rates, and budgets designed as if money is never-ending.
Do you have an investment thesis or a focus on any particular type of founders, business model, or industry? Are there any particular kinds of startup companies you steer away from?
Founders Bridge is industry-agnostic but with a geographic focus on the CEE region. We make investments in almost any vertical that is (or about to become) attractive in terms of overall growth. We are particularly interested in SaaS platforms that can grow regionally or globally, and in teams that dream big and are also up to the challenge of making it big. On the other hand, we are cautious about investing in sole-founder startups and in markets that are too small.
Where does your best deal flow come from?
The best results from our sourcing process originate from partnerships with accelerators and other similar programs for startups. By participating in these events, we keep a close connection to the startup environment and we observe the startups at work during longer periods of time, before deciding that we are interested.
There are also some great deals that come from sharing pipelines with other VC funds. This not only helps us get thoroughly reviewed startups but also lays the groundwork for co-investing in bigger subsequent rounds.
What do you think about the evolution of cross-border investing? Are you open to investing in pan-European startups? Do the Romanian companies have an advantage in your selection process?
We are a Swedish venture capital fund investing in the CEE region and this makes us the exact definition of cross-border investors. This is our core business and we are very bullish about it.
Our bidding portfolio is made up of startups not only from Romania but also from different other countries in the region (Workathlon from Greece is a great example). Moreover, we have also invested in startups founded by multinational teams (SpeechifAI is one example). We have also co-invested with other VCs from different European countries (e.g. we were one of the three VCs from three different countries in ProductLead’s recent round).
We have a lot of knowledge about, and a keen interest in the Romanian market, and that gives the local startups an advantage in our selection process. But this is mainly due to the local focus of our sourcing efforts.
Founders Bridge decided recently to invest in Workathlon, an HR Tech company with Greek roots. What were your main favorable points for this decision?
The first thing that caught our attention was the ideal positioning of the startup: Workathlon is at the intersection of HR and hospitality, two verticals that we believe will flourish in the post-pandemic economy. Then there was the timing: if you look at Workathlon’s evolution, it is now exactly at our so-called “sweet spot” in its life cycle, i.e. it is very close to a Series A round. Furthermore, Workathlon is targeting markets that are both booming and severely underserved at the same time.
That is a fantastic combination, and we will certainly be able to take advantage of it.
Why do you bet on Workathlon? Did you know their team for long?
There is a multitude of reasons why we’re betting on Workathlon and the team is definitely among the important ones. We’ve met Workathlon founder Katerina Santikou at a startups event more than half a year ago and we’ve had countless meetings since. She has an excellent education and the perfect background (second-generation hotelier) for this job. Apart from the founding team, we strongly believe in their business model and the potential of the markets where they intend to expand. Workathlon is a solid startup, certified by the due diligence we’ve made, and shown by the analysis of a bigger VC fund that we want to have on board for the next financing round.
How do you plan to support them in their main, medium-term objectives?
We are leading this financing round because we believe we can assist Workathlon with its immediate and medium-term plans. First of all, we are helping by bringing other investors to this round. Our contacts in the Romanian angel / VC environment come in handy for this. Secondly, we want to build a network of connections & support within the Romanian hospitality and HR industries. These will bring both product know-how and access to a large candidate pool for Workathlon to tap into.
Furthermore, we are already scouting for later-stage VC funds to bring on board for the Series A round planned for the end of next year. In the meantime, our competence & skills in tech and product mean that we can also actively lend a helping hand in Workathlon’s development.
Do you have any other rounds in the pipeline you’re particularly excited about?
Our next confirmed venture is a follow-on investment made in one of our portfolio companies. It will be our first follow-on round and we are excited to lead it. In addition, we are advancing with a few other startups in our pipeline, so we predict a very active year 2022 ahead.
We’re excited to share another deal together. From your point of view, what’s SeedBlink’s role in the ecosystem?
Given that our first investment ever (SanoPass, the leading health platform in Romania) was a success shared with SeedBlink, we are of course thrilled to repeat the feat now. We think that SeedBlink is a very much-needed financing instrument for the soaring Romanian startup ecosystem.
As we know, the huge progress made during the last few years has produced a lot of angel investors. Some of them are collaborating further as part of business angel networks, thus creating an important early-stage financing instrument. Then there are a lot of new venture capital funds – like us – placed in the professional side of the ecosystem. A solid crowdfunding platform comes then naturally in the space between these two sides of the ecosystem.
As its track record already shows, SeedBlink is doing a wonderful job filling that gap and we are very interested to see its future development.
If you could give entrepreneurs one piece of advice about working with you, what would it be?
In Sweden, trust in the other party is a given, even from the beginning of business collaboration. We bring this trait with us here, so if you manage to preserve that mutual trust granted from the beginning, we will do great things together!
Thank you for sharing your views with us. Any final thoughts for our readers?
SeedBlink’s investors community is an important pillar of the Romanian startup ecosystem. The more involvement this community shows, the better the chances that Romania produces even more success stories in the future.
A lot of the great successes are in the making right now, in front of your eyes. The trick is not to miss out on them now!