Imagine a world where employers would provide education, stability, and a network that could support your next venture, should you feel entrepreneurially inclined.
This is the spirit of Google, notably in its habit of snapping up talented AI PhDs and specialised computer scientists, nurturing them to explore the limits of their field in whatever direction that takes them. Many ex-Googlers, or Xooglers as they are known follow this path and leverage their learnings, and network from Google to form their own startups.
Rune Bentien, one such entrepreneurial Xoogler, has placed himself on the other side of the equation. He leads the EXFI Syndicate - a group of 6 investors backing the best deep tech (ex) Google founders with ties to EMEA. Their criteria are that there needs to be one ex-Googler in the founding team. However he believes that you don’t need to be a founder to have impact; business and operations, or engineering, it really doesn't matter. “You can be a creative person and an entrepreneur regardless of where you sit or what your formal role and title are.”
EXFI look for founders who share the view that the world is in “a defining moment for humanity.” EXFI focuses its efforts on investments that “directly or indirectly help mitigate the changes our world will face if we don’t step up.” For Rune, that means founders with an eye on positive impact for the world and good business sense, all fair game for investment, even outside the rich Xoogler stable. With the range of knowledge and innovation on offer from these tailored groups, it is no surprise that other investors want to get involved and that Rune gathers them digitally, through the EXFI syndicate.
This current decade is, according to many scientists and researchers - just take UN's recent report for example-, the defining moment for humanity in the next hundreds of years. You can probably expect EXFI to focus our effort on areas where our investments directly or indirectly can help mitigate the changes our world will face if we don't step up
The 6-person EXFI team consists of more than 60 years of Google experience across engineering, staffing, business operations, and commercial activities. Some have worked together while at Alphabet, while others have gotten to know each other over the past 5 years supporting founders with ties to EMEA in the pursuit of truly enabling entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem in the region. Since 2017, the team members have led or been involved in organising 7 demo days for Xooglers with more than 110 startups going on stage and pitching to tier-one VCs and angels.
The Xoogler niche is vast, talented, and part of a network in which Rune is already very comfortable. The capable, curious, and self-motivated Googlers and Xooglers, recruited through AI PhDs or through Google Brain, are a rich seam of talent and comprehensive support system. As a part of a global network, the founders can always get help from former colleagues on any subject matter. In the spirit of using technology to scale EXFI has just launched X2X, a skill-sharing platform for Ex-Googlers and friends, inspired by Google’s G2G. X2X is built with technology invented by Xoogler founders.
The network perpetuates a circle of investment and innovation as well as a preview of upcoming ventures where investors can grab an opportunity before the rest of the world knows it’s there. The outcome is some of the cleverest minds on the planet paired up with the capital to set their start-ups in motion. The EXFI syndicate serves to pull in outside investors with similar interests and values or founders with complementary ambitions and vision for the future.
Ideally, I would like to open up this network of knowledge and resources because I think that can be extremely powerful for the European and EMEA-wide start-up ecosystem as a whole and help shape a culture where we support each other.
Sharing information and resources and ideas is something that Rune believes in strongly. Not least because that is how partners are found, how start-ups grow, how solutions to climate or health problems are created, how investors can make informed decisions about where they want to put their money. It’s a world without borders: EXFI’s current roster of investments for 2021 includes founders based in Israel, France, and Africa and it doesn't expect that pattern to change.
The syndicate model allows investors to branch out and play a little more. It’s a way to follow a thread of curiosity, expand or diversify their interests and investments with a lower overall risk profile, on a platform, and in a format that supports all levels of experience and capital.
There is no such thing as an ideal LP. We want to partner with people who want to challenge the status quo, who are curious or driven. We work with angels and family offices, but also some VCs that invest outside of their main fund. They benefit from using the Vauban platform because of its speed and flexibility. Their existing operating agreement or terms may also not allow for investing through their usual vehicle. A platform like Vauban, that reduces barriers to entry, is important because it allows us to focus on helping founders rather than our back office
$800K in 2021
The EXFI syndicate has leveraged its network of alumni to pursue transformative investments in deeptech and biotech at a critical juncture for posterity. The investor lineup ranges from veteran investors, founders, and executives to first-time angels and family offices.
The majority of our investors are still individual angel investors but family offices have realised that European venture is an asset class they should seriously consider - and we are excited to invite them on that journey.
Along with the positive contribution quotient, the talent and potential of the founders are a hook for Rune. EXFI has great care for founders, ideas, and the world alike, and Rune believes that it is important to give founders ‘unconditional love’ in their pursuit of solving a problem. In the end, it’s the people who make the difference. If EXFI can help those people be impactful, everybody wins.
Rune Bentien is aware of what a gift a ready-made network of creative and scientific minds is. The ideas and start-ups don’t always succeed but, for an investor, having a number of investments running at once and coming from a source as rich as the ex-Googler community, means the likelihood of success is high. And taking those investment opportunities to outside investors helps everyone involved.
What excites me is that there is that opportunity for us ordinary people to get involved. A couple of months ago a VC said to me that there's never been a better time to be a founder, and yes, that's true. But hang on a moment, there's never been a better time to be an investor!
Syndicating a group of investors and adding the value of an online base means that opportunities can be snatched up, and funded with ease, encouraging investors to explore new realms and networks.
For Rune, investing is about more than money, it’s also about encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset in alignment with helping people and the planet. Funding the exploration of new ideas from a pool of Xooglers means that investors and founders have a common background, education, and values. A syndicate means that a wider variety of investors can join in to support these bright new futures led by someone with access to the top AI engineers in the world and their world-changing ideas. “It's never really been about quantity, it's always been about getting the right people together. It’s the human capital that is the scarce resource - this is where we can even outcompete VCs as we can tailor each investor team to the needs of the individual startup.” - Rune Bentien, EXFI
If, like Rune, you'd like to lead an alumni syndicate, please click here.