Europe's New Economy has spawned hundreds of serious investors in technology startups where there once were none. But Spaniard Martin Velasco is way ahead of most of them. Since 1995 he has put money into more than 20 companies, including Spanish star Terra Networks, which now boasts a market cap of $15 billion. So far, he counts an average gain of 50% on his investments.
Velasco is one of Europe's leading business angels--guardian angels of sorts, who give seed capital and strategic advice to entrepreneurs in return for a stake in their companies. He's a big believer in Europe's ability to challenge the U.S. in technology. "The Internet has no barriers to entry," he says. Europe has "the creativity, energy, and know-how" to create global winners in an information-driven economy, he adds.
No stranger to bits and bytes, Velasco studied electronics and computer science in Lausanne, and earned an MBA from Fontainbleau-based INSEAD. After eight years as a partner with McKinsey & Co. building its worldwide telecommunications practice, he launched his own consultancy focused on telecoms, and advised such companies as Telefnica. Three years ago, he shut that down to focus full time on investing. Now he circles the globe four times a year to keep abreast of fast-moving technologies and competition.
But Velasco, 45, is more than a hard-nosed investor. He spends a third of his time on civic and philanthropic interests. He's helping to develop global rules for e-commerce and has sponsored conferences to highlight tech startups in Spain. Through such efforts, Velasco is doing his part to foster a New Economy in his native country as well.