Family Office

Is There Life For Startups After Rate Rises, SVB's Collapse?

Alasdair Graham 26 April 2023

Is There Life For Startups After Rate Rises, SVB's Collapse?

•  Athos Service GmbH, Germany
Athos KG is the family office of the brothers Andreas and Thomas Strüngmann. Through the family office’s investment vehicle AT Impf the brothers first invested a €136.5 million seed round in 2008 in a tiny startup called BionTech. Today, everyone knows what happened to BionTech and its partnership with Pfizer to produce the Covid vaccine. On 13 April 2023 BionTech’s market cap was $31.24 billion with Athos, still the largest shareholder through AT Impf, holding 43.5 per cent. The stake is valued at $13.58 billion, among the very highest value holdings in a single company in any European or US single family office’s VC portfolio.

• Carl Bennet AB, Sweden
Carl Bennet AB is the family investment company of Swedish industrialist Carl Bennet. There are just six companies in the private equity and VC portfolio of Carl Bennet AB. Of these, the longest held (since 1989), the largest by sales revenue, and the most valuable, is Getinge AB, a manufacturer of sophisticated medical equipment for hospitals.   

The company’s market cap on 13 April 2023 was SEK 70.4 billion ($6.8 billion), valuing Carl Bennet’s 20.03 per cent stake at $1.36 billion. Bennet has patiently held the stock for 34 years, unthinkable for a venture capital fund but not unusual for a multi-generational family office.

• Aprés-Demain, Switzerland
Aprés-Demain is the unusually named family investment company of Thierry Mauvernay, a second generation member of a Swiss family whose wealth stems from the founding in 1979 of Debiopharm, a successful pharmaceutical company. Aprés-Demain invests in a diversified range of asset classes, with its venture capital portfolio focused currently on 17 digital health companies, which include two further investments just last month. Since digital health is in the DNA of the family behind Aprés-Demain, adverse short-term economic cycles are unlikely to frustrate the strong pace of the firm’s VC investment activity.

• Crosby Advisors, US
Crosby Advisors is the family office which manages the assets of the Johnson family which owes its wealth to the founding in 1946 of Fidelity Management & Research by Edward Johnson II. Today Fidelity is the second largest mutual fund manager in the US.
The Johnson family’s VC investment activity is undertaken through a Crosby affiliate F-Prime Inc. F-Prime’s global portfolio currently holds nearly 300 companies in healthcare and technology sectors to a present value of around over $4.5 billion, one of the largest family office portfolios dedicated to venture capital. F-Prime is not too concerned about temporary setbacks in the economy not least because, as the firm comments, it is “without the pressure of fundraising from outside investors.”

• Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, US
The Chan Zuckberg Initiative represents the family investment company of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan. The firm is an example of a private investment company funded by a multi-billionaire who, although affected by turbulence in the wider economy (current Facebook layoffs), nonetheless ploughs on with venture capital investment because it represents a public commitment to philanthropy. Most of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s allocation to VC is invested with an impact purpose, intended to yield a profit but at the same time to achieve a social benefit. 

• Souter Investments, UK
Souter Investments is the family office of Sir Brian Souter, co-founder of Stagecoach, the UK’s largest bus company. Now retired from Stagecoach and no longer a shareholder, Sir Brian's major focus now is as a direct private equity investor with the ticket size range being £2 million up to £40 million – a range which at the lower level he could also be considered as a late stage venture capitalist. 

In 2022 the non-listed segment of Souter Investments’ portfolio, predominantly focused on direct investments in growing private companies, grew 52 per cent in value from £183 million to £278 million. The firm’s pre-tax profit, reflecting the growth in value of the firm’s listed and unlisted investments, rose 67 per cent from £42.9 million ($53.5 million) to £71.7 million. 

These growth rates make it probable that Souter Investments will accelerate rather than reduce its current VC funding and that high interest rates or macro-economic uncertainty are unlikely to slow this down.

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