A fresh take on early-stage VC: Harvard Business School publishes a case study on Antler

Harvard Business School (HBS) recently published a case study about Antler’s fresh approach to early-stage venture capital. Antler Co-Founder Fridtjof Berge shares thoughts on how the case sparks discussion about the best ways to identify and support great people anywhere on earth.




The investor backing the world's most driven founders, from day zero to greatness. Enabling thousands of founders every year to launch and scale companies that move the world forward.

When HBS Professor Dennis Campbell, who has been following Antler’s journey, reached out to see if we could extract learnings for the classroom, we were excited to help. The case took over a year to develop, with Professor Campbell and Research Associate Iuliana Mogosanu conducting interviews with Antler team members and portfolio companies, going deep to understand our model and what we’re trying to achieve.

The case focuses on how Antler is shaking up the traditional early-stage venture capital (VC) model—which is typically local and not very scalable—by using a global approach to support people from the very beginning to build their startup. That means we can gain scale benefits and learnings to better support founders from the outset.

In a nod to how founder-first we are as an organization, the case looks at the Antler experience through the lens of two different founder teams that formed during an Antler residency.

Harvard Business School case study on Antler

Really getting to know founders is where the magic happens

These companies prove that great founder teams can come together from anywhere and have very different backgrounds. They are also a reminder that the way people come across on paper is not always an indication of their potential. Many who do not have showstopping CVs can and will build some of the most impactful companies of tomorrow.

In the two-to-three months that we work with founders in our residencies, we really get to know them. We sit with them every day, learn from them, give them input, help develop their pitches, and introduce them to our networks. The learning process is always a two-way street.

When you are investing in the early stages, it's hard to get a good understanding of the people unless you spend quality time with them. That’s where a lot of the magic happens. Because spotless integrity, big ambition, and solid work ethic really shine through over a period of several months versus in a couple of pitch meetings. At Antler, we get to know all our founders as people, colleagues, and friends—which makes us very comfortable backing them.

This matters in the pre-seed stage because the vast majority of ideas founders have will go through considerable pivots. But people change much less than ideas do. If you believe in people but aren’t certain about the idea, you see their potential that could be applied to another idea—an even better idea—than what they are pitching.

50 years on, rethinking how early-stage investing is done

We hope the case inspires people to rethink how early-stage investing happens and how leading companies are backed from the beginning. Over the last 50 years, the VC model hasn't changed much. If anything, it has moved towards waiting and investing later, and having people without any support needing to prove more before they get an initial investment. In many ways, this is contrary to the original thinking behind VC, and it creates significant barriers to entry.

The case also challenges how people think about successful founders. Everyday people might be too influenced by the Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates stories, thinking great founders need to be Harvard dropouts in their early twenties. Most founders are not like that. Many successful ones are in their thirties or forties, have built smaller companies before, and didn’t become breakouts immediately. There are of course exceptions, but founders can really come from anywhere.

Another theme the case highlights is the value of assessing people and founder teams in a quantitative and qualitative way. Here at Antler, we meet so many people and companies around the world that we are gathering a lot of learnings. We can see trends in what type of people are working well together and in how we can best support them. We bring data analytics into early-stage investing. You need sufficient scale to do this, which is one of the unique things we're doing at Antler.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest news and views from Antler’s global community

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Must-read articles from Antler

Browse our collection of founder stories, industry insights and latest startup successes from Antler Australia

See articles
Founder Stories
5 min read
Sarah Hilmy: Inspiring friends and families to discover the world together

“Holidays are a way for you to enrich your own life. It's about going out and experiencing things that you otherwise wouldn't experience in your everyday life, trying new food, meeting new people, and just learning more about the world in a first-hand way.” —Sarah Hilmy, co-founder of travel platform Oddysee.

5 min read
50 creators to watch in 2023

As the creator economy continues to grow, expand, and evolve, we've curated a list of 50 exciting leaders to watch in this space. Influencers. Journalists. Operators at prominent creator-related platforms. Founders. These are the players—seen and unseen—who underpin the global creator ecosystem.

Founder Stories
5 min read
Sharon Li & Vanessa Chen: Empowering employees to be their healthiest and most productive selves

“People sometimes think the emotional and professional are conflicting, but what we believe is when people love their organization, the emotional value will actually make them productive. It will make them give their full self to the organization and make the organization grow for the long term.” —Sharon Li, co-founder and CEO of CHOYS

5 min read
The 2023 Creator Economy: A new direction

Our creator economy insights series—starting with our ultimate guide to the creator economy in May 2021—has tracked the explosion of a sector that upended the professional aspirations of the next generation. Today, as uncertainty and macroeconomic challenges pervade, how are creators pivoting and what does it mean for the sector's future?

Founder Stories
5 min read
Piet Hein van Dam: The seasoned data entrepreneur aiming to eradicate type 2 diabetes

Our content series "It All Starts with People" delves into the passions, motivations, and vision of the exceptional founders we have the privilege of partnering with around the world. Bringing a clarity of vision to our latest spotlight is Piet Hein van Dam, co-founder of Clear, the award-winning digital self-help tool for diabetes patients.

5 min read
Unpacking the $80+ billion ONDC opportunity: India’s next startup catalyst

India's approach to unbundle payments made the world look up and take notice. Now it's time to disrupt commerce with the Open Network for Digital Commerce or ONDC. In our latest Theory of Next deep dive we mapped, researched, and reached out to every network participant live on ONDC right now.

And we're excited to share with you a comprehensive what could be India's next unicorn catalyst with inputs from Vibhor Jain (COO of ONDC), Sujith Nair (Founding member of Beckn Protocol), and founders building on ONDC!

Co-authored by Nitin Sharma (Partner, Antler) and Gokul Kumaravelu.

5 min read
Five steps investors can take to support more diverse founders

Despite growing calls to create a more inclusive venture capital ecosystem and remove the barriers to entrepreneurship, only a fraction of funding is raised by founders from underrepresented communities.

The first step towards change is quantifying the challenge. While in-depth research has been conducted about women founders and founders from ethnic minority backgrounds, data has never existed about tech founders from the LGBTQ+ community—until now.

5 min read
A record year for Europe's leading day zero investor

A look back at 2022, a record year for the leading day zero investor in Europe—showcasing investment activity and key predictions for the early-stage tech ecosystem in 2023.