Extra Crunch

K Fund’s Jaime Novoa discusses early-stage firm’s focus on Spanish startups

Earlier this month, Spanish early-stage venture capital firm K Fund officially launched its second fund, which sits at €70 million, up from €50 million the first time around.

Targeting Spanish startups with an international outlook, the seed-stage firm plans to invest from €200,000 to €2 million, writing first checks in 25-30 companies. Meanwhile, a portion of the fund will also be set aside for follow-on funding for the most promising of its portfolio.

Described as business model- and sector-agnostic, K Fund currently has a mix of B2B and B2C companies in its portfolio across a wide variety of sectors, such as travel, fintech, insurtech and others. They include online travel agency Exoticca, HR software Factorial, insurtech startup Bdeo and Hubtype, a conversational messaging tech provider.

I caught up with K Fund’s Jaime Novoa to delve deeper into the firm’s investment remit, how the Spanish startup and tech ecosystem has developed over the last few years and to learn more about “K Founders,” the VC’s new pre-seed funding program.

TechCrunch: K Fund’s first fund was announced in late 2016 to back startups in Spain with an international outlook at seed and Series A. At €70 million, this second fund is €20 million larger but I gather the remit remains broadly the same. Can you be more specific with regards to cheque size, geography, sector and the types of startups you look for?

Jaime Novoa: We’re both agnostic in terms of business models and industries. Since our focus is, for the most part, Spain, we do not believe that the Spanish market is big enough to build a vertically focused fund, either in terms of business model or sector.

With our first fund we invested in 28 companies, with a slightly larger number of B2B SaaS companies than B2C ones, and across a wide variety of sectors. We do have a bit of exposure to travel and fintech/insurtech, but that’s because we’ve found several interesting companies in those spaces, not because we proactively said, “let’s invest in fintech/travel.”

In terms of check sizes, the core of the fund will be to make the same type of investments as in our first fund: first cheques from €200k to €2m and then sufficient capital for follow-on rounds. We’ll probably do a similar number of deals compared to the previous fund, but we want to have additional capital for follow-on purposes.

As pandemic drags on, interest in automation surges

Today, the U.S. exceeded three million COVID-19 cases and 132,000 deaths. In several states, new hotspots have rolled back plans to reopen businesses. The novel coronavirus has — and will continue — to profoundly impact the way we live and work.

For the moment, that includes a shift in the employment status of many Americans. More than 50 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March. And while many states have made efforts to reopen businesses and return some sense of normality, these moves have led to a spike in cases and may prolong the pandemic and its ongoing economic impact.

Technology has been a lifeline for many, from food delivery to the 3D printing I highlighted last week, which has worked to address a nation suffering from personal protective equipment shortages. Automation and robotics have also been a constant in conversations around tech’s battle against COVID-19.

Robots don’t get sick, tired or emotionally burnt out, and unlike us, they aren’t walking, talking disease vectors. Automation advocates like to point to the “three Ds” of dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that will eventually be replaced by a robotic workforce, but in the age of COVID-19, nearly any essential job qualifies.

The robotic invasion has already begun in earnest. The service, delivery, health care and sanitation industries in particular have all opened a massive gap over the past several months that automation has been more than happy to roll right through. A recent report from The Brookings Institute notes that automation arrives in the workforce in fits and starts — most notably, during times of economic downturn.

“Robots’ infiltration of the workforce doesn’t occur at a steady, gradual pace. Instead, automation happens in bursts, concentrated especially in bad times such as in the wake of economic shocks, when humans become relatively more expensive as firms’ revenues rapidly decline,” the study found. “At these moments, employers shed less-skilled workers and replace them with technology and higher-skilled workers, which increases labor productivity as a recession tapers off.”

VCs are cutting checks remotely, but deal volume could be slowing

When COVID-19 began to shutter the United States economy, startups jumped into cost-cutting mode as expectations rose that venture capital was about to get a heck of a lot harder to raise. After all, prior downturns in the broader economy, and tech sector in particular, had taken a bite out of the ability for startups to attract new funds.

PitchBook research shows that, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the amount of money venture capitalists invested fell, with early-stage deal and dollar volume enduring the largest cuts. Late-stage valuations during the same period came under steep pressure. The connection between a slipping economy and a rapidly deteriorating venture capital market, therefore, seems strong.

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The historically-grounded feeling from startups in Q2, as the stock market sold off and unemployment rose, was one of concern: VCs were about to cut their deal pace, and the number of dollars that they were willing to put into each deal would likely fall as well. Throw in the fact that investors would need to shake up their process and do deals remotely, was not confidence inspiring.

We don’t have full Q2 VC numbers yet, so it’s too soon to say that Q2 was worse, or better than expectations. But what we can say, thanks to a new survey from OMERS Ventures, is that VCs moved with reasonable speed to get over the technology and cultural hurdle of remote-dealmaking to keep the checks flowing. Indeed, according to OMERS Ventures’ research, 69% of the VCs it surveyed in June were willing to do fully-remote deals; for startups worried that the venture class was simply going to pack up its checkbook and take an extended vacation, it’s good news.

But the news isn’t all rosy — most VC firms from the 150 in North America and Europe that the venture group surveyed have yet to actually execute a remote deal. And, there’s some indication that overall deal volume could be slowing, perhaps due to “dwindling supply of companies formally going to market,” according to OMERS Ventures’ Damien Steel, a managing partner.

This morning let’s examine which VCs have been the most active, and the least, to find out which types of firms are still investing, and where investors are seeing more deal flow, and less.

Remote deals, fewer deals

Most VCs have decided that remote dealmaking is, at minimum, something that they need to become accustomed to. Only 4% of surveyed VCs said that they would not do remote deals, full-stop. Another 23% said that they were find with remote deals, albeit with some ability to meet entrepreneurs in person.