Google's former CFO wants to fund Europe's Facebook and Google before Silicon Valley buyers 'take them out'
- Google's former chief financial officer, Patrick Pichette, will invest in European startups as a general partner at Canadian venture capital firm Inovia Capital.
- Pichette will lead Inovia Capital's new London office after the company raised $600 million across two funds.
- Pichette wants to help Europe fund the next Facebook or Google, before its most promising startups are acquired by US tech giants.
- Pichette pointed to DeepMind, a British AI company acquired by Google while he was CFO, as an example of a company that could have been a "UK champion."
But there is one constant sour note spoiling the generally positive tune. Europe doesn't have anything to rival the Silicon Valley giants, a world-leading tech company on a level with Facebook, Google, Amazon, or Microsoft. The closest the continent has to a global household name is Swedish music streaming service Spotify.
There are various schools of thought on whether Europe can ever produce its own tech giant but according to Patrick Pichette, there's one avoidable problem: "Let me argue that there are 25 Facebooks and Googles in the UK today. The fundamental issue is that they get taken out before they have a chance to become Facebook or Google."
Pichette ought to know. He was Google's chief financial officer for seven years and helped negotiate its $500 million acquisition of British artificial intelligence company startup DeepMind in 2014.
"I was on the other side of the transaction," Pichette told Business Insider. "Everybody's celebrating that DeepMind was sold to Google. But if you take a step back, ask yourself, had it had the right set of support what would DeepMind look like today as a UK champion?... At the end of the day, it's not a UK company any more. They are part of an American company."
China Stringer Network/Reuters
DeepMind, for its part, has maintained it is a UK company with its headquarters in Kings Cross, London, and its founders remaining in the UK. That narrative has become harder to sustain after Google consolidated a part of DeepMind's business into its own health unit.
The post-Google Pichette wants to help European startups stay independent and grow into companies that could rival his old employer. To that end, he has joined Canadian venture capital fund Inovia Capital and will lead its first European office in London.
Inovia is a decade-old investment firm and has closed $600 million across an early-stage fund and a growth fund, mostly from Canadian institutional backers. It describes itself as a "full-stack" investor able to invest at multiple stages of a company's lifecycle, writing checks ranging between $2 million and $50 million.
The company specialises in infrastructure and applied services companies, and its portfolio includes commerce platform AppDirect and mobile robotics firm ClearPath Robotics.
The new fund has enabled the expansion to Europe, where Pichette will scout out promising European startups. The goal is also to help Canadian startups launch in Europe, and to bring European startups to north America.
"It resonated with me," Pichette told Business Insider. "At Google, on average we bought two companies a week for the seven years I was there. If I didn't take them out, Amazon would, Microsoft would. Both Canada and the UK have great early-stage ecosystems, but not a robust growth ecosystem."
He is, for now, relatively unconcerned about Brexit. "Inovia invests in companies that are global in nature - you can literally park yourself anywhere. If I ran an automotive company with an integrated supply chain in Europe, I'd reak out. But it's not what I do, and really it's about IP and tech. We're obviously much less affected."
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