Octopus Ventures: People-focused support to help ‘pioneers change the world’
Managed by: Octopus Ventures
Location: Based in London and New York, with partners in San Francisco, Singapore and China
Investment size: £1 million at seed to around £10 million for Series B
Portfolio size: More than 100 companies
Portfolio companies include: DeadHappy, AudioTelligence, Big Health, graze and Cazoo
Focus areas: Health, money and deep tech
Octopus Ventures was founded in 2008 with a mission to invest in the companies and founders that will change the world. Focusing on businesses in the areas of health, money and deep tech, Octopus Ventures provides support for founders and their employees, helping them to build billion-dollar businesses.
All the companies Octopus Ventures backs have a presence in the UK and are looking to expand globally. Investments start at £1 million at seed stage and increase to around £10 million for Series B rounds.
Focusing on companies looking to change the future of health, future of money and future of deep tech allows Octopus Ventures to specialise in these areas and find the very best founders.
The entrepreneurs they back in the health space are those seeking to transform the industry in various ways, from using biotechnology and other digital technologies, to finding new approaches to mental health, sexual health and longevity. Companies concentrating on the future of money include those exploring insuretech, blockchain or other payments, credit and lending innovations. And deep tech focused founders work with technologies that could power the next industrial revolution, including robotics, drones, 3D printing, quantum computing, and even the augmentation of human senses.
More than money
What makes Octopus Ventures different from other venture capital firms? Octopus recognises that entrepreneurs need more than money to succeed in business; they need support and resources too.
“We believe caring about the people who are running the businesses we invest in is important,” stated Laura Willming, Portfolio HR and Talent Manager at Octopus Ventures. “And not just because they’re leaders in the companies. We recognise that they are people too.”
Mental health support is especially important to Octopus Ventures. To make sure the entrepreneurs they back stay happy and healthy, the firm provides access to therapy and psychotherapy, personal coaching, professional coaching and consulting services. “This is really important because being a founder is often a lonely journey,” explained Willming. “It’s a very high-pressure situation. And often people put everything they have into it, which might mean working a lot of hours or foregoing some of the other things that are good for your mental health.”
In fact, research has shown that founders are more likely to be affected by mental health conditions such as depression, which illustrates why ongoing support for entrepreneurs’ wellbeing is just as crucial as financial support.
Building teams for the long term
Another thing that sets Octopus Ventures apart from many other VCs is the type of support it offers to help investee companies build their workforces. Research shows that smart team building, from early on, promotes greater innovation over the long term. In turn, that benefits a company’s bottom line.
“We go in and work with our companies to help them figure out, ‘What is our employer brand?’ ‘How do we select people?’” Willming told us. “We want them to learn that in the early days, so by the time they need to hire 30 people, they can do it quickly and really, really, well.
“Ultimately, we want all of our companies to be the best places to work in the UK, Europe or even the world.”
One aspect of team building that’s particularly important is the promotion of workforce diversity. The goal, according to BCG research, “should be to create teams that are diverse across multiple dimensions – because they all have value.”
Willming added, “We coach the companies to build a culture where all voices, ideas and perspectives can be heard.”
Professional development with Venture Partners
Alongside wellbeing and workforce support is the general coaching Octopus Ventures provides for its founders. Willming explained, “We invest in companies we think are going to fundamentally change whatever space they’re in. Often, that means we’re investing in people who likely have never done it before. And even if they have, this will be a really unique journey for them as a founder.”
Because of this, the Octopus Ventures investment team works closely with entrepreneurs and their management teams, helping them overcome weaknesses and improve on strengths. Through this support, the organisation helps young companies build the right foundation for future growth, whether it comes to policy, hiring, HR, or any other aspect of business.
Working with a network of experienced consulting partners allows Octopus Ventures to bring in experts to help whenever they need. Partners include Howard Bell, a seasoned entrepreneur who focuses on business and product strategy; Ian Perry, a veteran technology executive with knowledge in sales, operations, general management and board-level management; and Pete Daffern, who comes from the enterprise software world.
“These people go beyond consulting,” Willming told us. “The ultimate value is that they’ve built companies themselves. They can help founders know what to expect and can streamline the process of starting a business. They can relate and share stories that are so helpful for the CEOs to hear.”
The Octopus Ventures community
Octopus Ventures has invested in around 100 companies, some of which have gone on to join forces with the likes of Amazon, Twitter, Microsoft and Unilever. Because there’s strength in numbers, the firm encourages its entrepreneurs to network with one another.
“We try and loop them into a network because they’re obviously all going through the same kind of journeys together,” Willming told us. “When you read about mental health, the number-one thing that people always list is the need to feel community and connection.”
Members of the Octopus Ventures community, and startups which the company has invested in, included DeadHappy, AudioTelligience, Big Health, Cazoo, graze and Bought By Many. These businesses and many more are working towards their missions of changing the world in positive and lasting ways, supported by the team at Octopus.
“I just get really excited about working with these companies,” Willming finished by saying. “They’re incredible businesses building really, really cool, meaningful stuff. To be a little part of that is awesome.”