OMERS Ventures heads to Europe with $456 mln fund, hires Harry Briggs

Damien Steel, managing partner and head of ventures, OMERS, photo courtesy of the firm.

OMERS Ventures has taken another step in its plan to create a global platform, launching a €300 million ($456 million) fund to invest in European startups.

Capitalized by OV’s parent organization, OMERS, a $97 billion Canadian pension fund, the fund will make life-cycle investments in companies in key European tech hubs, Head of Ventures Damien Steel told PE Hub Canada.

Steel says target opportunities will be located mostly in London, Berlin, Paris and Nordic cities as well as fast-evolving secondary markets, such as Amsterdam.

Investing in Series A-to-B financings, the fund will deploy €5 million to €10 million per round. It also has the capacity to back later-stage deals.

The fund will operate from OV’s new office in London, shared with other OMERS investment arms, among them OMERS Private Equity and OMERS Infrastructure.

Staffing up

To manage the fund, OV is assembling a team of investment pros reflecting a mix of VC and operational skills, Steel said.

Three team members are already on board. They include Harry Briggs, who joined late last year as a managing partner.

Previously, Briggs was a partner with BGF Ventures, the early-stage affiliate of U.K. growth investor BGF, and a principal with Balderton Capital, a pan-European venture firm.

Briggs also has an entrepreneurial background, including as co-founder of Firefly Tonics, a health-drink brand acquired in 2014 by Langholm Capital.

Additionally, OV hired Tara Reeves in early 2019 as a partner. Reeves joined from U.K. seed investor LocalGlobe, where she served as a partner specializing in fintech. She also co-founded car-sharing network Turo.

Also this year, OV recruited Henry Gladwyn as a principal. A lawyer by training, Gladwyn joined from BGF. He previously led an angel syndicate for the founders of AI startup DeepMind.

Left to right: Harry Briggs, managing partner, Tara Reeves, partner, and Henry Gladwyn, principal, OMERS Ventures.

Steel says OV will remain in hiring mode, aiming to increase London personnel to six this year. Further hires will include a second managing partner.

A feature of ongoing recruitment will be diversity, he said, to ensure representation of the “European cultures we’re targeting.”

Introducing OV to Europe

Briggs and his team have already begun sourcing tech opportunities across Europe, with the fund expected to close its inaugural deal in the next few months.

The fund will make five to eight investments per year and up to 20 overall, Steel said. This will be done in tandem with OV’s global operation, which will “work collaboratively across geographies,” he said.

The operation includes teams in OV’s Toronto headquarters and freshly minted Silicon Valley office, opened in January as the first step of the global strategy.

OV-wide collaboration will support European and North American portfolio companies pursuing transatlantic and global growth, Steel said.

The Silicon Valley office is led by Michael Yang, formerly of Comcast Ventures. Like Yang, Briggs will help OV introduce itself to a new market, leveraging his and Reeves’ connections in Europe’s VC and entrepreneurial communities, Steel said.

This activity will include forming partnerships with local investors, such as angels and early-stage funds to help optimize deal flow.

OV’s European presence will be facilitated by OMERS’ existing reputation on the Continent, including as an investor in high profile PE, infrastructure and real estate deals, Steel said.

Venture investing in Europe reached an all-time high in 2018, Pitchbook reported, with deployments of €20.5 billion to 3,384 financings.

Steel says Europe presents more opportunities than ever due to large talent pools, tech ecosystems built around top post-secondary institutions, and established market infrastructure.

“There’s an advantage today to building certain companies in Europe rather than Silicon Valley,” he said.