Andris Berzins Joins Creandum As Baltic Investment Advisor

Creandum has invested in some well known companies across the Nordic region, but has yet to make any major investments in the Baltics. Today, the Stockholm-base Venture Capital firm announces Andris Berzins is joining as an Investment Advisor. Over the last 18 months Berzins has been heavily focused on the Baltic startup scene, working the chairman and co-founder of Techhub Riga, as well as the Lead Wise Guy at Startup Wise Guys.

Berzins tells us, “I approached Creandum because I want to pull in a really good investor that is close by, knows the region, but also wants to take companies onto the world stage.”

In May Finnish Industry Investments committed €7.5 million to Creandum and gave some details about the new Creandum III fund, which has not been officially closed. The press release, however, did state that the fund has already raised €92.5 million at first closing, and aims to hit €150 million by its final closing. This will be a nice chunk of change spread across the region, and it will be interesting to see how many new investments they make in the Baltics with Berzins as an investment advisor on board.

Berzins tells us he’s there to support Creadum’s easy-stage strategy in the Baltic markets. Creandum was the first institutional investor in Spotify, and he points to that investment as a sign of the Stockholm-based VC firm’s ability to spot and develop winners.

Berzins is still going to be actively involved with Techhub, as he is the chairman of the co-working space. With Startup Wise Guys, he will still be actively involved with the current crop of companies, who are pitching in London today.

Here was the rest of our discussion:

ArcticStartup: What are some of the bigger trends you’ve noticed about Baltic startups?

Berzins: I think the first trend is supposedly obvious, but really isn’t. Proportionately to to size of these countries, we have a disproportionately portion of startups that are doing well. I think thats one of the reasons why the region is so interesting. And secondly, theres still a lack of early stage capital, especially early stage money. I think there’s more in Estonia with Skype throwing off a couple of exits and millionaires that can afford to invest, but there’s still a relatively small number in proportion to the startups that are out there.

There are several programs that are partly filling the gap, but I think that’s going to pass over time. What we’re seeing now is a lot of startups using the early stage programs to get traction. Companies that are staring to get to A and B rounds in the world market — the GrabCADs, the Zero Turnarounds, GetJar is seven years down the road in terms of funding. I think that’s a sign that there are a lot more attractive investment opportunities in the region.

ArcticStartup: How have the Baltics been able to create this disproportionately high number of quality startup companies then?

Berzins: There’s a couple things. One is the concentration of technical know-how, like maths, physics, and so on in the region. It’s not so different in Russia in that sense. What’s added to that in the Baltics is that some kind of work ethic and hard willingness to do what it takes to make these startups happen. It’s very important. I’ve been in tech startups for 15 years now and it’s bloody hard work.

I was asked to present to a number of US investors in Latvia organized by the government, and the first slide I put was a picture of an old latvian farm. I think on of the reasons why we do tech startups so well here is because we’re farmers in our blood. We have patience, and we’re ready for hard work. You need both of those things for startups. I think all the fantasy stories are all about people making it rich easy, but it’s never that way. The people that do succeed are those who are ready for hard work and work late nights, night after night until they get what they want.

ArcticStartup: You mentioned a lack of early stage capital earlier. Have international VC’s been ignoring the region? What has the the VC market been like in the Baltics?

Berzins: The VC market in general hasn’t been ignoring. I’ve been approached by a lot of VC’s who are coming and looking. The problem is that the guys that come into the market for a day or two and then look around, they’re never going to invest early stage. Because they don’t have the resources on the ground, and they don’t have the level of contacts needed to get in there.

That’s is something really needed, and it’s one of the reasons Creandum is different. They have a history and a specific strategy of investing early. That means they get in there early, they have access to the company early, and they can help shape the future of the company.