Visiting Angels and Entrepreneurs in Northern Europe
My wife, Ann, and I visited Ireland, Russia, Estonia and Finland, from mid-March to mid-April (2012), sharing experiences in angel investing through lectures, discussions and workshops. We met passionate entrepreneurs with exciting startup companies and engaged angels investors in all four countries.
Upon arriving in Dublin, we were met by our hostess, Diane Roberts, for a leisurely drive to Belfast. It was a lovely day in the North of Ireland. The following day, I delivered a four-hour workshop on capital sources for entrepreneurs and pitching angels for fifteen entrepreneurs in the Propel program. Later that afternoon, we visited the phenomenal new Titanic Experience – a don’t miss! We finished our first full day sharing dinner with Halo – the Northern Ireland Business Angel Network (Alan Watts). I enjoyed a short interview on BBC radio the following morning. Immediately thereafter, a dozen Halo members participated in a workshop I led on portfolio strategy and post-investment relationships with portfolio companies at the impressive Northern Irish Science Park. We then took a picturesque train ride back down the coast to Dublin.
On Wednesday, April 18th, I presented a keynote talk on US Startup Valuation Trends for the 1st Irish Angel Meetup. Two hundred angels, entrepreneurs and others in the startup community attended this inaugural event organized by Diane Roberts of Xcell Partners and held at StartupBaseCamp accelerator in Dublin. In the afternoon, I led a Master Class focused on Angel Working in Groups for thirty prospective members of the new Colman Investors after which we heard pitches from two entrepreneurs. On Thursday, I spoke to entrepreneur groups at both the National Digital Research Center and the DIT Hothouse on subjects of fundable companies, trends in funding, business plans and pitching investors.
In addition to enjoying some delightful pubs and restaurants, the highlights of our Dublin sightseeing were visiting Newgrange, touring the Old Jameson Distillery and the live musical comedy “Legally Blonde.”
In Northern Ireland and Ireland, I spent 19 hours in front of audiences, delivering eight lectures and workshops to 162 entrepreneurs and 190 angel investors.
We attended the twelfth annual Congress of the European Business Angel Network held April 23-24, 2012 at the Digital October technology entrepreneurship center. 325 delegates participated in an interesting program highlighted by a gala awards dinner boat cruise on the Moscow River, with Frank Peters as master of ceremonies. Philippe Gluntz, President of France Angels was honoured as the 2012 EBAN Angel of the Year, while the Finnish Business Angel Network (FiBAN) was recognized as Business Angel Network of 2012. Views of the Moscow Cathedral, the Kremlin and Red Square from the cruise were marvelous.
Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, located just across the Bay of Finland from Helsinki. We arrived from Moscow on April 25 and I spoke on Raising Money to Go Global the following day at StartSmart held at Technopolis Ülemiste, an incubator and innovation center. One hundred fifty entrepreneurs and others attended this monthly conference that alternates monthly between Tallinn and Helsinki. On the 28th and 29th I lectured and mentored more than a dozen entrepreneurs, part of the University of Tartu’s DDVE program, led by Mart Kikas.
On May 2nd and 3rd, I led workshops for Estonian investors on syndication, due diligence, valuation and the post-investment relationships with entrepreneurs for about 30 angel investors. Over dinner on the 3rd, I assisted these Estonian angels in a screening session with three entrepreneurs pitching interesting startups. These efforts were organized by Merit Imala and the Arengufond Estonian Development Fund team.
In Estonia, I was in front of audiences for 21 hours, delivering 7 workshops and lectures and mentoring 12 entrepreneurs. Audiences totaled over 380 entrepreneurs, investors and others.
We found Tallinn to be a delightful place to visit and the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. Great museums, a large section of the 13th century city wall, wonderful cobbled streets and delightful restaurants, all within a short walk of modern hotels. We also discovered that Estonians love to sing. Their Tallinn Song Festival Grounds provides a stage for 15,000 singers to entertain over audiences of over 100,000.
We arrived in Helsinki after a two-hour ferry ride across the Bay of Finland from Tallinn. On the morning of Monday, May 7, I led a workshop on angels working together in groups for an audience of about 70 angels and entrepreneurs organized by the award-winning Finnish Business Angel Network (FiBAN). That same afternoon, FiBAN organized a two-hour workshop on Due Diligence in the offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The following morning, I delivered a workshop on Valuation and then spoke on Startup Boards in the US to the 200 delegates attending the Boardman conference (Boardman is Finland’s leading corporate governance organization) in Finlandia Hall. That afternoon, I spoke on pitching investors to 40 entrepreneurs and then coached seven entrepreneurs on their presentations, organized at Finvera. The evening was capped off with a reception attended by 125 leaders of Helsinki’s entrepreneurial and investor community at the historic Nordea Bank facilities.
After a day of touring Helsinki, I then delivered a workshop on exits Thursday morning, followed by a pitch session at which four entrepreneurs presented to 30 angels (plus visitors) in the Startup Sauna, an accelerator located at Aalto University. After the formal presentations, I had the opportunity to meet many of the fine teams there at a casual BBQ.
The highlight of Friday, May 11 was participating in a panel discussion on encouraging entrepreneurship in Finland with Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen the new parliament facilities before an audience of about 150.
Our FiBAN hosts, led by Claes Mikko Nilsen, Feodor Aminoff and Jan D. Oker-Blom treated us like royalty during our visit. Overall, I spent 20 hours in front of audiences totaling nearly 800, delivering six workshops, mentoring a dozen or more entrepreneurs and as the subject of five press interviews.
Ann and I enjoyed glorious Spring weather in Helsinki. We enjoyed a delightful harbor cruise, walking the Esplanade Park from the wonderful Hotel Kamp, the views from Palace Restaurant and the Torni Tower and many other sites in the city. Ann visited Aniola villa, the home of famous Finnish composer, Aino Sibelius about 30 minutes outside of Helsinki. Then, on Friday, May 9 our FiBAN hosts treated us to a wonderful piano concert of Sibelius compositions at the new Helsinki Music Centre.
We ended our European stay with a train ride visit to beautiful and historic St. Petersburg, the northern-most city in the world with population exceeding one million. From our small hotel near Nevsky Prospect, we were able to visit most of the sites in or near the central city, including Peter and Paul Fortress, the Church of Our Savior on the Spilt Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. We enjoyed a boat ride on the Neva River and several canals and walking/auto tours with angel investors Dmitry Rumyantsev and Michael Podgaiets.
We were in Europe for a month, visiting four countries. In total, I delivered 21 lectures and workshops, conducted 10 press interviews, participated in four panel discussions, mentored over two dozen entrepreneurs and teams and spend 60 hours in from of audiences totaling about 1600 angels, entrepreneurs and others in the entrepreneurial community.