What: Upscalers is an emerging early-stage investment club of business angels that has built a community of startup operators and founders to identify deals and vet investment opportunities. After two years of refining the concept, Upscalers recently announced it has closed a pre-seed round for an undisclosed amount to expand its community-building and recruiting activities.
The group currently has about 100 members and a waiting list of almost 800. The founders hope to grow that membership number to 500 this summer and 1,000 by the end of the year. Potential members must apply to join the select group.
At the start, Upscalers operated via WhatsApp. But the team has now developed a platform that it hopes will help it scale to reach more members and startups. The pre-seed round is aimed at helping with the platform development and community building, which includes hiring a Chief Product Technology Officer.
The pre-seed round was primarily raised from its network of business angels, but it also included money from Caterina Fake, former co-founder of Flickr and board member of Etsy, through her fund, yes.vc.
"It's been an intense two years," said Upscalers CEO and co-founder Yoann Benhacoun. "Let's see what 2024 will bring us. That's gonna be the year of growth and scale for us hopefully now that we have the product that's going to help us to scale."
Paris-based Benhacoun has previously lived in Madrid, London, Amsterdam, Boston, and Los Angeles. He returned to Paris in 2014, and most recently was France country manager for Israel mobility startup Moovit. He left in 2022 and began to expand his angel investing activity as well as working on Upscalers. Though he had a large network in France, Benhacoun wanted to find a way to expand his network across Europe, and eventually across the globe.
He partnered with Paris-based Rouchon to start testing the idea and structure of a community-led investment group. Rouchon now oversees the angel investment activity.
More recently, David Ghouzi joined as CPTO.
The Background: Beyond Benhacoun's desire to expand his investment activity, the co-founders saw an opportunity as the number of tech employees in Europe has almost tripled since 2017. This was creating a new class of people with startup experience who also had the financial means and desire to invest in startups.
Themes: Upscalers is a generalist club. While Benhacoun says the group follows trends like GenAI, it's cautious about focusing on any one sector just because it becomes trendy.
How It Works: Upscalers has now grown to have a European footprint with communities in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Milan, and Barcelona. There are monthly dinners for each local community to create networking opportunities and strengthen ties among members.
The new platform also enables members to pitch investment opportunities, debate their merits, and eventually select startups to back.
There are online events on topics to help with professional and skills development. Groups are also organized around cohorts where members hold monthly calls to share lessons about various challenges they have faced in their careers.
Current members pay a €2,000 annual fee and there is no obligation to invest.
Number of Startups Backed: 16
Size of Investments: Upscalers writes checks that range from $50,000 to $250,000, with an average of $1,000. Female founders account for 40 percent of the portfolio.
Notable French Startups:
- Dotfile: A one-stop identity verification API for compliance purposes. The startup helps companies verify users and other companies with a single application programming interface (API).
- Trezy: A personal data analytics tool tailored for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Their platform allows customers to consolidate all their data sources into a single, secure tool, enhanced with AI-driven analytical capabilities.
- Genesis: A tool for making agricultural supplies more sustainable by providing environmental impact measurements.
- Heedjy: A platform that accelerates software ecosystem growth by quickly launching an app marketplace.
What they bring to the table: The idea of building a community of operator-investors is key to Upscaler's value proposition. The growing base of startups created both a group of experienced operators as well as a need for younger startups to fill key roles. Upscalers wants to target investments while also connecting experienced operators with early-stage startups for hands-on guidance.
Current community members come from companies such as Checkout, Criteo, Klarna, Qonto, Factorial, Vauban, Spryker Systems, and Wetransfer.
Benhacoun believes this dynamic is self-reinforcing. Experienced operators have access to deal flow, can help vet the very best deals, and then can work with companies backed by Upscalers' members to help guide their growth.