More than 250 of France’s most successful founders are banding together to launch a new seed fund designed to further accelerate an ecosystem that is already red hot.
The new firm, dubbed Galion.exe, has raised €30m towards a goal of €80m for its first fund that will primarily target French startups. The goal is to back 12 companies a year with cheques ranging in size from €1m to €4m.
Even more important than the money is the pedigree of those involved. The Galion Project is a network of 400 French founders who have raised at least €3m for their startups. The founders of the new fund believe the group’s wisdom and connections will be even more valuable in finding early-stage deals than their chequebooks.
“We really had an appetite from our entrepreneurs to invest in early-stage companies,” said Agathe Wautier, cofounder and CEO of The Galion Project. “So we thought maybe we should do something together and do something that was really ambitious.”
The fund’s founders are tapping into a sentiment that has begun to percolate in recent months across the French startup ecosystem.
From a policy and investment standpoint, there has been an emphasis on boosting late-stage and scaleup investing. That strategy appeared to have paid dividends last year when overall startup funding in France soared to €11.3bn from €4.7bn in 2020 and the country produced a robust herd of unicorns.
However, according to an analysis by VC firm Eurazeo, funding growth is primarily being driven by later-stage mega-rounds where the number of deals and the size of deals have exploded. In contrast, the number of VC rounds up to €5m was flat in 2021, and the overall amount raised in this range only ticked up slightly.
Speaking at a presidential campaign event last week, French digital minister Cedric O warned that France, which trails the UK and Germany in overall startup funding, was only funding a third as many seed and early-stage companies as the UK. He suggested that the French government was considering further reforms to encourage more business angel and seed-stage funding.
"We've worked a lot on the growth stage over the past five years, but I think it's time we again put more weight on the early stage," he said. "Because if we look at why the UK is three times ahead of us, it's because they have financed three times as many early-stage startups.”
The Galion Project
Created in 2015 by online advertising company Criteo cofounder Jean-Baptiste Rudelle and Wautier, The Galion Project has become a quietly influential presence in France’s startup community. Originally, the idea was to bring together experienced founders to facilitate the sharing of experience in an ecosystem that was still young and had few repeat entrepreneurs.
Over time, that crystallised into a startup think tank that created libraries of tools to help new founders understand things like negotiating term sheets, creating diversity strategies and managing the scaling phase of their companies.
It was somewhere where entrepreneurs could speak freely about problems
“It was somewhere where entrepreneurs could speak freely about problems because the idea is to have peer-to-peer learning where you can confront your problems,” Wautier said.
VCs were specifically excluded. But as more founders had exits, they became business angels who were actively looking for deals. Wautier saw an opportunity to use the Galion community to address the seed stage challenge and called on Willy Braun, a cofounder of the Daphni venture firm, to help put together an investment deal for members.
That evolved into a permanent partnership and structure to manage a fund. In addition to Braun, it will be co-managed by fellow Daphni alum Kevin Kuipers with Chloé Monneyron joining them as an associate VC.
The fund will be sector agnostic. So far 80% of the money raised has come from Galion members and it remains open to a limited number of outsiders. About 85% of the fund will target French startups with the balance available to invest outside of the country.
I think we’re at a tipping point in the ecosystem where we don’t have to rely as much on institutional investors or a couple of billionaires
The Galion.exe team will be embedded in The Galion Project’s office in central Paris, allowing Wautier to consult on deals. In addition, a committee of Galion members from startups such as ScreenTonic, Showroomprivé, Criteo and Easyence will review investment proposals along with a fifth member who has experience in the relevant market.
Braun said that while the number of seed-stage firms in France has grown in recent years, there is still a lot of catching up to do.
“From the very beginning, we had a very strong conviction about the opportunity at the seed stage,” Braun said. “We realised that the model we could build together was unique since we are developing a model that would be relying on the community of entrepreneurs. I think we’re at a tipping point in the ecosystem where we don’t have to rely as much on institutional investors or a couple of billionaires. Now we have hundreds of entrepreneurs able to invest in a fund that will really mean something to them.”