Plural Raises $432 Million to Support European Business Owners

Plural Raises $432 Million to Support European Business Owners

VC in Europe Plural has established a notable standing as one of the few venture capital firms in the area founded and managed by business owners who have grown their own enterprises. Among its founders are Ian Hogarth, the creator of Songkick, who recently added a role with the U.K. government in AI safety strategy, Sten Tamkivi, and Taavet Hinrikus from TransferWise/Wise. Plural is now growing, having raised a new €400 million fund to support what Hogarth describes as “transformational” entrepreneurs in the area, providing them with additional operational expertise to launch their firms.

He continued by saying that Plural’s primary focus will be on early-stage startups rather than expansion rounds, similar to its previous investments.

In June 2022, Plural made its debut, just as the startup venture world was peaking. In its annual study, Atomico revealed just six months prior that European entrepreneurs had raised a record $100 billion in 2021. That may have contributed to Plural’s €250 million launch fund, considering it was initially only supposed to be €150 million.

The fund that is being unveiled today is happening at a very different time.

Over the past year, venture capital in Europe has mainly been retreating as a result of the bad economy. In 2023, startup investment fell to $45 billion. Omers and Coatue, two well-known investors who came to establish themselves in the area, drastically reduced their investment or ceased operations. Some have stayed put, but they’re acting casually. Due to investors pressing a hard bargain and unmet growth expectations, valuations have generally plummeted. Hinrikus stated in an interview that Plural has retained a portion of its funds and is continuing investing from its first fund.

Even with one LP, an unidentified academic institution in the U.K., contributing, Plural’s most recent fund still exceeded its initial goal, according to Hogarth (other LPs included institutions and family funds out of the U.S. and Europe mostly). However, it wasn’t without its own difficulties.

“To say it was easy would be incorrect,” Hinrikus stated to TechCrunch.

To date, Plural has made 26 investments out of its initial fund. Its partners include co-founder Khaled Helioui, the former CEO of the gaming company Bigpoint, and more recently, Carina Namih, a seasoned founder and investor with experience in the health tech industry. Thus far, activity has centered on a few main areas that have shown to be effective across Europe.

Nearly one-third of its investments go toward artificial intelligence, while 16% go toward “frontier tech”—scientific discoveries with commercial potential—and 14% go toward firms addressing climate change and energy.

The first fund included notable investments in London-based Robin AI, which raised $26 million earlier this month for a “legal copilot”; Isometric, another U.K. startup, which raised $25 million last year for a novel approach to creating a carbon removal registry; Proxima Fusion, a disruptor of the German energy sector; and Unitary AI, a startup that developed a multimodal technique to improve video content moderation by reading cues that are text-based, visual, and audio-based.

While investing its most recent fund, Plural will continue to look at some of these similar categories, but it will approach partner selection in a slightly different way.

Hogarth is presently the chair of the newly established AI Safety Institute of the U.K. government, having previously served as the leader of the government’s AI Foundation Model Taskforce and assisted in planning the highly publicized AI Safety Summit in the country last year.

Because of this, Hogarth has largely stopped funding and reaping the financial rewards from AI firms developing massive language models, such as OpenAI or Anthopic (frontier models being the main focus of the government’s work on AI safety).

In response, Hogarth claimed that “there is no way that I can benefit economically from having taken this role.” He described the process as “a series of mitigations,” which have included divestments and other measures. Hogarth declined to provide specifics about how that is being accomplished.

Even if AI is the craze of the moment, there are plenty of other games and opportunities available. Investors now appear to have much greater understanding on the firm’s pursuit of what Hinrikus refers to as “consequential businesses” as a result of the current tighter market.

Therefore, Plural is aiming to board that ship even if some may believe that the consumer ship has sailed. According to Hogarth, “we think there are some really special opportunities in consumer that will emerge in the next few years.”

“What we really care about are founders going after a very singular vision, trying to do something that feels highly differentiated,” he added. “[With] AI right now, there’s a huge number of people building businesses that look identical to 500 other startups. So what is more interesting is when people have taken a slightly less usual route and they have a stronger point of view on how the world’s going to develop.”