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Antler’s Sarah Finegan on spotting fintech gems before they shine [Full Interview]

As the official media partner at the recent IFGS 2024 Conference at London’s Guildhall, TFN met with Sarah Finegan, Investor at Antler, to talk about how she got into VC, Antler’s strategy as a zero-day investor, and her insights into fintech. This is part of our series Fintech talks with TFN.

See the full video below:

Building real experience in VC

Like many in the VC sector, Finegan’s CV begins with investment banking. “I started my career working in investment banking for some of the large financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and HSBC,” she told us. “I was very lucky to work across the world. So worked in London, New York and in Hong Kong.”

And, just like others who have followed the same path, Finegan felt the pull to do something more. “I actually decided during my career at Goldman’s to go back and study, and I used that as an opportunity to co-found my own business.” And that began her connection with the early-stage tech scene. “Coming out of a very institutionalised background, I realised that I needed to build my operating experience. I did absolutely everything in my power to get in front of entrepreneurs to build that experience.”

Funding from day zero

That desire made Finegan a perfect match for Antler’s strategy. “Antler is now one of the most active private early-stage investors, definitely in Europe, but also across the world,” Finegan told us. Positioning itself as a ‘zero-day’ investor, Antler’s strategy has been to identify startups at the very earliest stages. It has meant that their activity has not always followed the market trends, which have seen a significant drop in investment.

“I think it’s one of the few private investors that are actually going to increase the number of investments, particularly in Europe,” Finegan said. “In 2024, as we look further ahead, we’re going to be making many more investments and doubling down on the talent that we’re seeing in Europe.”

This confidence extends to fintech, which has been one of the area’s worst affected by the funding downturn. “We have a highly diversified funding strategy,” Finegan explained. “So we’re investing across a number of different types of industries. If you look at the UK alone, we’ve backed 35 industries, and fintech is just one of those.” For Finegan — and Antler — the most important factor to a startup is the founder, and the product they are making. “We’re really seeing some exciting individuals and founders that coming from fintech background, and identifying specific problems to be solved.”

Providing practical support to founders

One of Antler’s most notable features are the residencies they run, helping founders to meet and launch their startups. They tend to represent a significant part of Antler’s portfolio.

“We’ve made investments in a number of exciting teams from our last residency, which happened in quarter four last year,” she explained. “TFN covered the announcement that we backed nine teams that emerged through our residency, and one separate to that.”

The early-stage approach means that Antler often sees trends before anyone else, although it’s no surprise that AI is the dominant tech at the moment. “We are seeing a number of our finders leveraging it to solve some really, really important problems in the world and across industries,” Finegan told us. “I think if you look and reference the last residency that we ran, I would say probably 90% of the teams that were using AI.”

Finegan shared some examples. “If you look at the Antler portfolio in the UK alone, we have quite a decent proportion of our portfolio companies that are operating in the fintech space,” she explained. “Mast, for instance, are turbocharging mortgages. And we have Diesta, they’re creating efficiencies in insurtech, traditionally quite an archaic and legacy industry. Both really solving problems.”

Creating a more diverse startup scene

Finegan also reflected on diversity. She noted Antler’s model helps promote diversity, with around a quarter of their investments to female founders. “Diversity and inclusion is very much one of the priorities, we fully believe in the investment case for diverse teams,” she said. “I think if anyone knows me in the VC industry, they will know that I’m very passionate about levelling the playing field, and providing additional support, mentorship, and ultimately opportunities to underrepresented groups, including female founders and LGBTQ+.”

Her advice to founders is to build their network. “I think moving into VC, I realised very, very early on that my network was not as strong as it could have been.” she admitted. “One of the biggest things that you can do is really build that network.” She continued, “there are a number of really exciting communities and networks out there that are providing support that actively want to kind of help and assist founders.”

And, perhaps, her other advice might be to be proud of what you do. When asked to recommend resources for those starting out, she didn’t hesitate: “I’m going to do a shameless plug here and shout out to the podcast that I run with two amazing ladies! It’s called Up the Cap Table. And it is one of the proudest things I’ve ever been involved in.”

To know more about this fascinating conversation and watch more videos in our Fintech Talks with TFN series, subscribe to our YouTube channel and watch the full video there.

TFN accepted a small fee for the production cost of this articleFor partnering opportunities, contact [email protected]m or [email protected].

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