Jérôme Wittamer (pictured) cofounded Expon Capital with Alain Rodermann and Marc Gendebien, with the goal of backing entrepreneurs who share their values. Photo: Expon Capital

Jérôme Wittamer (pictured) cofounded Expon Capital with Alain Rodermann and Marc Gendebien, with the goal of backing entrepreneurs who share their values. Photo: Expon Capital

In our “meet the VC” series, Delano speaks with local venture capitalists to discover their investing habits and their takes on the field. This week Jérôme Wittamer of Expon Capital shares with us his firm’s ethos and what he looks for in an entrepreneur.

“We wanted to create a firm that was a responsible investor, because we had--and we still have--a very deep conviction about what technology should do.”

These words are from , cofounder and managing partner of Expon Capital, launched in 2015 and whose two funds focus (respectively) on young companies in Luxembourg and growth-stage companies abroad.

“Strange to say as a technology investor,” Wittamer continues, “but we actually don’t want technology to be in the middle of human interactions.” The firm takes an ambivalent approach to technology, emphasising in its manifesto that tech is neutral, i.e., not intrinsically good.

“A lot of technologies in the last decade have not given a great service to humans,” Wittamer continues, citing social media as an example, which he says has done both tremendous good and tremendous bad.

Says the manifesto: “We wish technology could make people more free, possibly better versions of themselves, not slave to useless habits. We see technology as a way to open possibilities for everyone, [to] foster better sharing and collaboration.”

What do you look for in a portfolio company?

Naturally, portfolio companies need to align with this ethos, to operationalise technology in a way that Wittamer and his team--six in total, all in Luxembourg--count as positive.

Beyond that, Expon Capital breaks down into two funds with slightly varying specs. One of these, the “Digital Tech Fund,” is devoted to the local scene, concerning itself with seed and pre-seed companies with operations in the grand duchy. “The mission of that fund is to grow the startup ecosystem in Luxembourg,” says the managing partner. Potential portfolio companies should have a minimum viable product ready to show and which they have already sold to between one and three customers.

The other fund, “Expon Growth I,” is pan-European in scope (with a few investees as far as Israel and the US) and focuses on later-stage companies that are addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

These are still the basic criteria, however. Wittamer elaborates on a few other, more intuitive factors, to do with the entrepreneurs as individuals. They must be coachable, for one thing. (“If they know everything, then obviously there’s nothing we can add.”) Their values must chime with the VC firm’s, as mentioned. And they must, as people, have growth potential.

“Beyond the myth of venture and the glitter--or adversely maybe the shadow of what it could be--it is a deeply human business,” says Wittamer, stressing that VC is far more about people than it is about money. “There should be grit, of course,”--speaking about what he looks for in an entrepreneur--“there should be sufficient creativity”.

“[And] they need to have a growth mindset, which means the ability to grow as a human being… much more rapidly than normal human beings.” Here he points out that a startup will have a specific set of needs early on, but as it grows those needs, and thus the role of its leaders, will change. “Some founders are not capable of [handling such growth] and they will need to hire a CEO.” This, itself, isn’t the issue--it’s being able to accept that need and not having an ego that gets in the way.

“[Founders] need to transform from caterpillar to butterfly several times over, which is a very hard and deep process.”

What would you want the general public to know about VC?

“Venture capital… is a source of financing to make entrepreneurs’ dreams come true,” says Wittamer in response to this question. “But it’s not for all dreams. It’s only for the big dreams.” Not all new companies need VC money, in other words, depending on their intended scope.

“It may be daunting…” he goes on, speaking about the field in general, “but in practice it’s very down to earth. You’re helping a few people with an idea to make that idea come true.”

Sometimes bad ideas get funded, he admits. “VCs are human beings. We make mistakes--everybody makes mistakes.”

But he ultimately sees venture capital as a way to find and enable huge remedies to huge problems. “Solving problems is at the core of what venture capital does. Solving problems that matter, at scale.”

Three portfolio companies to highlight

Asked to choose a few highlights from the firm’s 30 portfolio companies, the managing partner hesitates: “It’s like asking you to choose one of your children…”

But he manages to land on Salonkee, a Luxembourg-based company that offers tech services to salons. “We’re really proud of their growth trajectory,” says Wittamer. Confirming the health of that trajectory, on 12 June the company announced that it had raised €28m in its latest series B fundraising round.

Wittamer also expresses pride in the company’s founders, in how they have grown as leaders. “We invested in them at the very beginning. Our first investment in them was, like, €250,000--I think they had 50 or 60 customers.” Now the company operates in five countries and, according to its website, as of June 2023 has handled 1.9m online bookings.

Another portfolio company is , a smart analytics and data management fintech, also out of Luxembourg. “They are reshaping the way the fund industry operates,” comments the managing partner. “Very strong founders, who are as engaged in their own development as that of their firm.”

These two examples are from the Digital Tech Fund. A third comes from the other fund: Refurbed, an Austria-based company that refurbishes old goods, largely but not exclusively electronics, for resale. “You buy it, it looks good as new. You get the guarantee, just like with a new one. Except you pay much less.” The managing partner reports that the company are on track for half a billion euros in revenue this year. “Also an amazing team.”

Three notable exits

—Glose, an e-book company from France, was bought by Medium for an undisclosed amount in 2021. At the time, the platform reached some 1m readers in 200 countries.

—Spire Global, a space company whose satellites capture data about earth, was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2021 and valued at $1.6bn.

—Glovo, a delivery app founded in Barcelona, was acquired by Delivery Hero for $2.6bn in 2022.