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Private Equity: Nurturing Europe's start-up culture

The volume of money raised by European private equity funds continues to grow. Much of that money is flowing in the belief that continental Europe is close to developing the sort of buy-out and start-up culture which has long produced spectacular returns for venture capitalists in the US. In late March Apax Partners closed a €1.8 billion ($1.9 billion) pan-European fund. It has the distinction of being the largest private equity fund for Europe denominated in the new currency, but it joins an already large pool of funds, much of it denominated in dollars, which is dedicated for investment in private European companies.

Increasingly, venture capitalists are positioning themselves as specialists in a certain type of company or industry sector rather than as country specialists. "The days when investors would put their money exclusively in the UK or France are gone," says Clive Sherling, director of Apax Partners and chairman of the UK venture capital association. "We wanted to raise a fund which would invest across Europe and the most appropriate currency for that is the euro."

A lot of the appetite for European private equity investment comes from US institutional investors. Some 60% of the new Apax fund, for example, was raised from US investors (UK buyers accounted for 10% and the rest came from continental Europe).

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