“We want to be involved in Ukraine’s startup ecosystem.“ Interview with Maciek Balsewicz from bValue
Recently, AIN.Capital made the ranking of the 20 most active Polish VC funds in 2023, bValue was among them. It has already done 4 investments this year, including Innential, Wellbee, and noo.ma. In March 2023, bValue Fund II fully exited its portfolio company Renters.pl, Poland’s leading short-term rental operator.
Tell us about the fund’s activity in 2023: how many active investments were made, have there been exits/write-offs of investments?
Over the last 12 months, we made 9 new investments, with 6 of them in 2023. With the decreased availability activity in the early-stage funding, we saw much more investment opportunities fitting to our investment policy than we have in previous years.
We have also made our 13 exit and first one from second generation fund — Renters.pl, a leading short term rental manager in Poland. It was acquired by Enterprise Investors. Fortunately, for now we had no write-offs, and we hope this will not change in the coming year.
One year ago, bValue launched its third €100 million fund focusing on later-stage tech startups from CEE. How can you describe the results of this fund?
I wanted to first clarify that our growth equity fund is not a typical later stage VC fund. We are much more interested in EBITDA profitable companies with a little different growth plan for their future.
We are actively investing and for now we see that this type of funding, although not unusual a few years back, is getting more and more interest from founders.
We want to invest in companies that look for full exit within 3-5 years and want to achieve profitable growth without further outside financing. We are investing in tech businesses as well, but not exclusively.
Are you currently negotiating new projects or focusing on supporting portfolio companies? Tell us about your plans for the end of the year?
We are finalising our early stage fund with last investments, but we are more focused on supporting portfolio companies as we made a lot of investments in the last 12 months, and we want to support them in their current development. At the same time, we are actively sourcing new investments from the growth equity fund, so there is a lot of activity in every area of our fund.
How does the Polish venture capital market look now? What trends would you highlight?
We see that more and more funds are finalizing their investment period and are preparing to raise new funds, which will possibly mean a period of downturn in the fundraising activity for startups in Poland. At the same time I see less founders starting new businesses. This may be related to the general economic situation, where people are more scared of risk, but the reality is that we see much less new startups than during 2020-2022.
Has anything changed in the fund’s approach to investing over the past six months — average check, focus, geography. How did the war in Ukraine affect the fund’s activities?
There was no significant change in our approach. We are investing in the CEE region with a focus on Poland. Russian aggression in Ukraine has impacted all of our portfolio companies, some more than others, but I hope the worst is behind us.
What do you think about the Ukrainian startup ecosystem? Does bValue plan to invest in some Ukrainian startups? Or maybe you’ve already had some examples of partnership with Ukrainian companies?
Due to the size of the Ukrainian economy, local startups are focusing on foreign markets, especially in the US. I believe this might be an advantage of these companies compared to Polish startups, as they are better prepared for internationalization and address bigger markets.
“I believe Ukraine’s startup ecosystem is developing very rapidly and we definitely want to be involved there. Among our recent investments in Ukrainian startups is Callpage.”
What is the focus for the next investments? Tell us more about your plans.
Currently, we are focused on the growth equity fund and are actively sourcing profitable companies looking for growth capital. In terms of our early-stage fund we are focused on portfolio support and exits from previous generation funds.