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Fleur Pellerin wants Europe’s entrepreneurs to go east

Fleur Pellerin is the former French minister and founder of Paris-based venture firm Korelya Capital. Her goal? She wants the European entrepreneurs to come towards east for new business opportunities.

After more than four years of founding Korelya, she is looking to make a bridge that will bring Europe’s and Asia’s markets closer. She quoted, “It’s a very complicated market, but it’s a huge opportunity because it’s such a huge market,” “You absolutely need to have local partners if you want to do anything.”

A new member can help with funding

Korelya has recently welcomed new partner Franco Danesi. He is a former investment banker who has worked at Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Quinvest. The timing of his addition is perfect for Korelya as the company is getting ready for its next fund. It has more than €300m under management, but almost all of it is invested. But the company has an impressive track record worthy of boasting with portfolio companies like Wallapop, Vestiaire Collective, Glovo, Bolt, Devialet, and Ledger.

Franco Danesi

Plans of expansion for Fleur Pellerin

Pellerin especially wants to increase the company’s presence in South Korea by doing investments there. Hence, the company will be adding partners with investment skills in early 2022.

When we created Korelya, we were not sure that it would be of any interest to founders to grow their business in Asia. But what we found is that most of the companies reacted very positively to that value proposition. And we were able to enter very competitive financing rounds because we had that angle.

Fleur Pellerin

She believes Korelya will be able to connect European startups to Asia as its international credibility can help connect with founders who are looking for investors bringing more than just money.

Fleur Pellerin special connection to South Korea

Fleur Pellerin was born in Seoul but was taken into an orphanage when she was abandoned on the streets. From the orphanage, she was adopted by a French couple when she was 6 months old. She considered herself thoroughly French as growing up she neither had any memories of South Korea, nor did she speak the language.

Life and career-shaping in France

After growing up in a Paris suburb, she attended business school and then enrolled at the École nationale d’administration (ENA). With a career in civil service, she eventually got a career opportunity to join president François Hollande’s government in 2012 to oversee small and medium-business affairs. 

When France’s entrepreneurial community rebelled over a proposed tax program, Hollande tasked Fleur Pellerin with stepping in to quell the controversy and find a compromise. The process of working toward a deal began what she described as a “sort of love story between the ecosystem and myself.” 

By these issues, she was inspired to develop a program called La French Tech. This program cemented her bonds with the startup community.

Taking risks – leaving the comfort zone

After her appointment as a junior minister by Hollande, she got a lot of media and political attention from South Korea. She received honor guard receptions when part of a delegation to Korea, and was invited to meet directly with the Korean president. The eagerness of the economic and technological giants to meet her allowed her to form bonds in a short period of time. She describes this period as “strange”, a disorienting celebrity status that she hadn’t sought. Still, it opened up a big opportunity. 

Naver, a South Korean internet giant, was one of the big names taking interest in Pellerin. She took an unusual step of leaving the security of her civil services job after leaving  Hollande’s government in 2016. She had begun thinking about opportunities in VC and her newfound Korean connections when Naver offered to help bankroll a new firm with €100m.

Bridge-building

Korelya’s Asian contacts and the European market exposure it provides them is a win-win for all. For example, Naver offers Korelya its massive R&D capability, especially in the fields of AI and robotics. Naver also has great market standings particularly in Southeast Asia as and can help European companies navigate the complexities of entering these markets. At the same time, big shot companies like Naver have been wanting to invest in European startups but were finding it challenging to break in and establish ties. Korelya helps facilitate such deals. In 2019, for instance, the firm invested in Spanish delivery service Glovo, but also helped a Korean asset management company participate in the deal. 

Fleur Pellerin said “It’s sometimes difficult for Asian investors to be part of the deals in Europe because Europe is so far away”. “But Asian capital can be interesting for European businesses.”

Her job is to keep making the pitch that Korelya can be the right guide and partner.

We have this access because of my personal story, which is again very strange. But it’s not just saying we’ll help you and then see how it goes. Our market access is real and we are there for our startups at every stage.

Fleur Pellerin

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