Since launching, Blackwood has established more than 70 partnerships with leading incubators and accelerators.
Artificial intelligence is being used to help assess and screen start-ups for investment, after a Saïd Business School University of Oxford alumnus was inspired by the School’s DP World Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Thomas Hellman.
Bastian Larsen, who established BlackWood in 2021, uses AI to conduct a deep analysis of a venture’s value proposition, strategy, team, and finances, allowing his company to evaluate more than 300 European start-ups a month.
Since launching, the company has helped several start-ups, by establishing more than 70 partnerships with leading incubators and accelerators in Europe.
Bastian who graduated from his MBA last year, said:
‘Thousands of start-ups across Europe struggle to get the funding they need. By using AI in this process, we can speed up the screening process, giving more start-ups a chance to get picked up. Additionally, the AI helps to boost accuracy, meaning we can confidently select only the most promising start-ups for our investors. I owe the idea to Thomas Hellman, who inspired me to adopt AI into the process and who was highly influential throughout my time at the school.’
Bastian started the company while undertaking his MBA at Oxford, after identifying a funding gap for start-ups across Europe to gain access to smart capital: funding, advice, and knowledge from high calibre investors.
Despite having the idea for a while, it was his involvement in the entrepreneurship project at Saïd Business School that encouraged him to pursue it further. In the early days of the company, Bastian leaned upon the expertise and guidance of his Oxford peers to help shape what would become BlackWood.
Reflecting on his time as the school, Bastian said:
‘Oxford gave me a sense of what was possible. I had the idea for BlackWood for a while, but while studying for my MBA I truly got a sense that I could really make it happen. For this, I am very grateful. The experience and the amazing network of friends and mentors my time at Oxford Saïd lent me has played an integral role in everything I’ve achieved since the founding of BlackWood.’
Since the launch of Blackwood, Bastian has onboarded over 1,000 angel investors into their Investor Club, which enables angels to co-invest alongside their growing team of experts.
One of the firm’s major success stories was its role in securing funding for legal technology start-up, Kula. In the weeks following Blackwood’s intervention, Kula went on to be listed in the Y-Combinator, a technology start-up accelerator. As a result, their valuation increased substantially, and the small, Oxford-Cambridge start-up has gone from strength to strength ever since.
Building on his success, Bastian has also gone on to launch BlackWood Ventures, an early-stage venture fund. BlackWood Ventures will operate in three sectors, fintech, deeptech and cleantech, all of which were selected for their high-growth potential.
The venture fund will utilise the large angel investor network, and give the members of the Investor Club the opportunity to become co-investors in new firms, something Bastian believes is unique:
‘The aim of BlackWood Ventures is to generate attractive risk-adjusted returns for our clients. We do this by blending traditional VC investing with the additional know-how of the many leading angel investors in our network. In essence, our mission it to improve the rate of innovation in Europe by democratising access to smart investing.’