Icebreaker, a new €14 million VC fund based in Helsinki, is de-cloaking today with a remit to back early-stage startups and what it calls “pre-founders”. The latter are described as people with successful five-plus year careers who are working on an idea for a startup but, due to a lack of financial support or a suitable co-founder, have yet to quit their day job and make the switch to startup life.
“We noticed that there are a lot of people who are on successful career paths but are looking to start or join startups – these are the people we call ‘pre-founders’,” explains Icebreaker co-founder and Partner Riku Seppälä. “There is no support for them here [in Finland], they don’t know… investors and have trouble connecting with co-founders”.
The solution, reckons Seppälä, is a new fund in Finland that not only plans to invest at the angel and seed stage — writing cheques of between €40,000 and €350,000 — but also one that acts as a catalyst for the country’s early-stage startup scene as a whole. This includes running various community building activities designed to help “pre-founders” find one another and ensure different skill-sets and experiences collide.
“The majority of our community’s pre-founders are working long hours at their current jobs,” says Aleksi Partanen, also a co-founder and Partner at Icebreaker. “Once they have the idea and at least part of the team in place our investment enables them to start developing their startup full-time while they are able to pay their bills as well. The support does not end after the investment but the teams can accelerate their development through our community”.
The Icebreaker community, which exists online and offline via multiple kinds of events being run and supported by the newly-outed VC, is designed not only to help co-founders find each other — in a vein not entirely dissimilar to some of the work being carried out by the U.K.’s Entrepreneur First — but also new recruits, advisors, contacts, customers, and wider feedback.
“One of the biggest challenges with pre-founders is that they usually don’t have a network of complementary co-founders,” says Icebreaker’s third co-founder and Partner Lasse Lehtinen. “We tackle this issue by facilitating pre-founders connecting with complementary co-founders. We also provide them with advice and mentoring from experienced founders, advisors and investors that they would have difficulty getting in contact with otherwise”.
The next Icebreaker event, dubbed “Pre-Founder Project,” will see the Finnish VC firm invite 50 “qualified pre-founders” for afterwork events and workshops with different themes.
“The goal is they find co-founders, get access to mentoring, hear about how different startups got started and challenge and support each other to move forward with their own ideas,” says Lehtinen.
“We also put our experience and contacts in play to get them on a solid path towards their Series A. The support together with our investment increases their chances of success and in turn we get great results,” adds Partanen.