‘Thin file’ loans startup Koyo closes $50M Series A led by Force Over Mass

Koyo, a fintech startup using open banking to offer loans to people with poor credit histories, has closed a Series A funding round of $50m in debt and equity led by Force Over Mass, with participation from existing investors Forward Partners, Frontline Ventures and Seedcamp. New investors in Koyo include Force Over Mass, Matt Robinson (founder of GoCardless, founder of Nested), and angel investors from the banking and lending sectors.  It last raised $4.9 million in 2019. With many sectors of the population having racked up debts during the pandemic, Koyo is likely to benefit from this underclass of consumer, normally rejected by the main loans companies.

The startup says it uses Open Banking data (bank transactions), rather than credit agency scores to underwrite risk for lending to consumers. In other words, it looks at how customers spend their money on a day-to-day basis, rather than what a credit agency says about them. The idea is to offer attractive rates and cheaper borrowing to a usually underserved market, usually known as ‘thin file’ customers (short or no credit history) or ‘near prime’ customers. The near-prime market equates to c13-15m people in the UK.

Thomas Olszewski, Koyo’s founder and a former VC with Frontline Ventures in London and Cavalry Ventures in Berlin, said in a statement: “Koyo launched at the start of the global pandemic and has proven that innovative use of open banking data results in better risk decisioning and ultimately has enabled us to grow the business during one of the toughest economic times the UK has faced. I’m proud to have continued to give many people in the UK access to competitively priced credit, during a time where most traditional lenders were quick to scale back their lending.”

Filip Coen, Force Over Mass partner, said, “We invest in companies that combine transformational technology with strong business models, and Koyo indexed strongly in both of those departments. Koyo has built a first-class foundation over the last 18 months of operation, and we’re excited to be part of its future”.

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How public markets can help address venture capital’s limitations

British venture capital firm Draper Esprit recently moved its listing from the AIM to the main board in London, the LSE. The investing group also moved its secondary listing from Dublin’s Euronext Growth Market to its larger sister exchange, Euronext Dublin, which makes sense given its long connection to Irish capital.

Draper has always felt like something of an anomaly from our perspective, a generalist venture capital firm that was itself public. But this July, Forward Partners listed its shares on the AIM, and there are other venture firms in Europe that are also listed.

At first blush, the setup may seem odd; venture capital firms invest in companies that they hope to see go public one day — why would they float themselves? But Draper Esprit co-founder Stuart Chapman told TechCrunch in an interview that he finds it shocking “that venture capital backs some of the most mind-blowing tech advances in our history over the last 70 years, using the same legal structure as a 1958 property vehicle in New York.” It’s a reasonable point.

Perhaps fundraising success is part of why the venture model has not seen much disruption in recent decades, apart from rising fund sizes. But the model is not perfect. It can foist artificial time constraints on investors and force them to focus their deal flow into particular stages for fund-construction reasons. As we found out researching this piece, the public venture model highlights some of these limitations — and may be able to alleviate them in part.


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And yet we can’t come up with a single U.S. venture capital firm, for example, that has publicly listed in the same manner as Draper Esprit or Forward Partners.

To better understand why we’re seeing European VCs float, and not their peers in other markets, The Exchange reached out to Draper Esprit, Forward Partners, and fellow listed venture investors Mercia and Augmentum Fintech. From the group, we’ve learned that there are plenty of reasons why the model may be popular in the U.K. and not in the U.S.

But there are also reasons why being a public venture capitalist can make the VC game a rather different, longer-term effort. The firms in question did not go public on a whim.

So let’s talk about the good, the bad, and the regulatory concerning publicly listed venture capital firms. The future? Or just a regional quirk?

From exception to trend?

Following its move, Draper Esprit is now the largest “purely tech VC” listed on London’s Main Market. Its initial listing had also been a market milestone: “Listing Draper Esprit five years ago was a radical and unusual step for a venture capital business,” Chapman said of Draper’s 2016 dual-listing on London’s AIM and Dublin’s Enterprise Securities Market (ESM) – now Euronext Growth.

Just last month, two tech-related investment funds IPO’d on the London Stock Exchange: space-focused Seraphim Capital and Nic Brisbourne’s Forward Partners. In both cases, Draper Esprit was happy to assist with information, Chapman told us, adding that the firm also invested in Forward via its fund-of-funds effort.

The news adds up to a roster of listed investors that also includes fintech fund Augmentum Fintech, asset manager Mercia Asset Management PLC and intellectual property commercialization company IP Group. “We’re supportive of others following in our footsteps and we will be big fans of having much wider diversity,” Chapman told TechCrunch in an interview, which you can read in full here.

Having recently joined the club, Forward Partners’ founder and CEO Nic Brisbourne gave us a good overview of the three high-level reasons that could lead a fund to list: open opportunities to create more value from new initiatives that sit outside traditional investment capital; breaking the cycle of fundraising; and opening access to the early-stage venture capital asset class. Let’s take a closer look.

#draper-esprit, #forward-partners, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc, #the-exchange, #venture-capital

Heights raises $2M for its subscription supplements aimed new ‘braincare’ category

New wellness startup Heights is formally launching this week, focusing on a category it describes as ‘braincare’. The startup will market “ultra high quality, sustainable plant-based supplements that feed your brain” based on what it says is scientific data.

It has raised a $2 million Seed funding round (£1.7M) via the Seedrs crowdfunding platform, with the round also including the institutional investor Forward Partners. Angel investors include Tom Singh (founder of New Look), Damian Bradfield (WeTransfer), Dhiraj Mukherjee (Shazam), Renee Elliot (Planet Organic), and celebrity investor Chris Smalling (an England and Manchester United professional footballer).

The funds will be used for customer growth and new product development, including soon-to-launch a ‘psychobiotic‘ probiotic aimed at cognition and mental health.

Customers first take a ‘brain health’ survey, then sign up for a monthly, quarterly, or annual subscription.

Customers need only take two capsules a day, thus hugely decreasing the complexity of juggling regular vitamin taking.

The product fits through a letterbox and the unusual bottle was designed by the well-known product design agency Pentagram. A content and coaching program included in the subscription helps customers, and another brain health survey happens after a month. Heights claims that “93%” improve their brain health score within one month.

Heights is not alone in this new market for what some describe as ‘designer vitamins’ and the arena is already populated by the likes of Hims / Hers, MotionVitabiotics and Bulletproof.

These companies broadly fall into the “Nootropics” category — vitamins and minerals designed to improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. But the market is not small. The ‘self care’, ‘healthcare’, and ‘personal development’ market is worth over $1Trillion but supplements alone is worth at least $100BN+.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr Tara Swart.

Heights founders Dan Murray-Serter and Joel Freeman, with adviser Dr. Tara Swart.

However, co-founder Dan Murray-Serter says Heights is aiming to do something different to the aforementioned players.

In a text-based interview, he said: “Nootropics as a category really focus on quick fixes, which is why we’re working on the category creation of ‘braincare’ because there are no ‘quick fixes’ in life, and that terminology and category have essentially set people up with the same false hopes as ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes do. We’re set up differently — aka, starting with scientifically researched articles and journal references.”

He said Heights will be positioned more like a skincare or haircare brand, “because people understand that the daily habit/practice is what creates the longevity and impact, not just a one-day miracle.”

Murray-Serter says there are 20 key nutrients science says our brains need to thrive, and these are mostly found in a combination of buying multivitamins, omega 3s, and ‘nootropics’. He says Heights has sourced the “highest quality” ingredients in the most ‘bioavailable form’ in a patented capsule which makes it easier to digest for the body.

“One of the most common reasons the habit of taking vitamins doesn’t stick for people is that the bottle goes into a cupboard and gets ignored. So we started with design alongside quality,” he says. The Heights vitamins come in a distinctive, recyclable bottle which Heights will also aven recycle if you send it back to them.

Murray-Serter, who previously founded the mobile startup Grabble, says he came up with the idea for the startup after a bout of chronic anxiety and a 6 month-long period of insomnia. The problem was solved by high-quality, high-density vitamins and supplements, as opposed to normal supplements which usually only have the lowest recommended daily levels of vitamins inside them.

After starting a newsletter on the subject of optimizing cognitive performance with cofounder Joel Freeman, the pair amassed a following of 60,000 readers www.yourheights.com/sundays

and then came up with the idea of launching the actual product.

The company now has a ‘Braincare‘ podcast that has reached 100,000 downloads, and the founders have also been joined by key team member Chief Science Officer, Dr Tara Swart (pictured).

Two things may help Heights. Firstly, in the era of Covid-19, public health authorities and governments around the world have recommended taking Vitamin D to boost the body’s immune system should someone fall prey to the disease. It’s not insignificant that two Heights capsules contain 400% of the ‘Nutrient Reference Value’ (formerly known as Recommended Daily Allowance) of Vitamin D3, as well as many other supplements. Theoretically, one could take four normal tablets of this, but the customer experience and other added vitamins in Heights will appeal to many. Secondly, the growing awareness of mental health and interest in maintaining good mental health is now a regular subject of public discourse. So Heights appears to be well-positioned to ride both those waves.

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