This year, Northzone, a tech VC, has several reasons to open up a bottle of champagne and light up fireworks! First, Northzone is celebrating their 20th anniversary – making them one of the oldest VCs in Europe. At the same time, they just closed their fastest fundraising ever – a fund capped at 300 million euros. And if that wasn’t enough, Northzone just made two massive exits – Tobii’s IPO and Avito’s sale – said to be the largest venture-backed tech M&A deals in Europe this year.

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We talked to Northzone’s partner Bjørn Stray about the journey from early Internet companies to media, gaming and e-commerce giants.

Bjørn and two of his co-founders worked together at McKinsey but went their separate ways for a while. Bjørn went to work at an investment bank, while his soon-to-be partners launched a digital services company which digitised financial information, and started to share corporation’s stock exchange releases online in 1994.

The company was able to corner the Oslo bourse, expanded to Sweden and was acquired by Schibsted media group in 1995. This was the very early Internet business success in Europe and the moment when Bjørn and his co-founders realised the disruptive power of the Internet.

So they brainstormed on the best way to embrace this opportunity: start their own Internet startup or go into brokering? How about raising money for a small venture fund and invest in Internet opportunities across the Nordics and beyond? That sounded like a good idea, and that’s how Northzone VC was born.

The challenge with online businesses back in the 1990s was that while Internet was sexy, not many people understood how to make money on it. Northzone invested their first fund of around 8 million euros in online content companies, though many advised that hardware and infrastructure would bring a better return. However, it was the online content which was a goldmine. In a few years Northzone’s Last Minute, a UK travel search engine, and Stepstone, a Norwegian job board, grew into billion dollar companies, and Northzone itself became a rock star of the Internet business in Europe.

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With the incredible success of their early startups, Northzone demonstrated long-term vision and proved to be #1 in the Nordic region. The company raised a bigger fund, and expanded their team to Stockholm and Copenhagen, and later to London and New York.

“The Nordic region has changed tremendously in 20 years. Back in the 90s, companies had a more local mindset. They preferred to work with local investors, and wanted to be acquired by local companies. Now startups plan and scale their business globally,” says Bjørn.

Northzone doesn’t want to stop there. They want to be the #1 VC in Europe. There is no reason to doubt them. Best of luck!

Helsinki Business Hub Investor Talks introduce foreign investors active in Finland. To get on their radar, contact HBH Investor Services.

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