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European angel investors have bussed more than 7,500 Ukrainians to safety

April 27, 2022, 4:04 PM UTC

Brooks Newmark, an angel investor in the U.K. and former senior partner at Apollo Global Management, was in Kharkiv, Ukraine, yesterday—where he has been trying to evacuate approximately 180 disabled children and their caregivers to safety.

“In a quiet garden listening to bombs dropping in the distance,” he told me via email, shortly before our second call.

The original plan was to move children out of two care centers: One is in Shevchenkove, but that area has fallen under Russian control and is no longer accessible. The second care facility is located some five kilometers outside of the Kharkiv city center. Dozens of the children are bedridden, and would need to be moved carefully via ambulances and small vehicles. It’s an evolving situtation, and they may not be able to move the children at all. Two days ago, Newmark had planned to transport the children to Kyiv—but due to medical concerns in case they needed to be moved a second time, Newmark and others are trying to find a new place further West.

“We should know—I’m hoping in the next 24 to 36 hours—that we’ve got somewhere to take the kids,” Newmark told me late yesterday evening.

This evacuation project is one of several that two European angel investors—Raitis Bullits, an investor and entrepreneur born in Latvia, and Newmark—have taken on since the war broke out at the end of February. With the financial backing of members of Club Changer, a Riga, Latvia-based community of 200 angel investors from 19 European countries, Bullits and Newmark have orchestrated the relocation of more than 7,500 women and children to safety via buses—more than 4,000 from Vinnica to Krakovec; more than 300 from Harkiv and Dnipro to Lviv; and more than 3,000 from Poland to other European countries, according to the club’s latest reported figures. Approximately 274 of the civilians were moved just last week. 

Brooks Newmark (left) and Raitis Bullits in Tomaszow Lubelski on the Polish border with one of the buses.
Brooks Newmark (left) and Raitis Bullits in Tomaszow Lubelski on the Polish border with one of the buses.
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

The initiative began on February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. Bullits, who works in transportation and logistics organizing transportation of tourist groups through the French Alps, started a 15-hour trek to the border to help transport people shortly after he heard about the invasion, he says, and called up Arkadijs Steimans, the co-founder of Club Changer, to see if the club wanted to help. At the time, Newmark, a new member, was in Rwanda doing research for a doctorate at Oxford University. After a quick stop in London to pick up warmer clothes, he joined Bullits at the Polish border. The Club Changer group has raised more than 300,000 euros—around $316,500—to fund their efforts, from members and other contributors. including from its Russia-born investor members.

Refugees queuing for buses at a refugee center in Tomaszow Lubelski.
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

“This is the least I could do,” says Konstantin Siniushin, a Russian venture capitalist at Untitled Ventures and a Club Changer member in Latvia. He spoke with me through interpretation from Mary Glazkova, Untitled’s communications representative. Siniushin said he is terribly ashamed of Russian President Vladimir Putin and what he has done to the Ukrainian people. 

Russian troops have repeatedly targeted civilians in Ukraine, and women have been instructed to lie low to avoid being raped by soldiers. In Bucha alone, which Russian troops occupied for more than six weeks, 412 bodies were found—80% of which contained bullet wounds, according to the Kyiv Independent. Some civilians were reportedly moved to other villages, where they were tortured.

When Bullits and Newmark started the evacuation project, there was a buildup of Ukrainian civilians at the Polish border, which is where they got started. 

“We were one of the first who brought buses to bring people to Europe,” Bullits says, noting that Luxembourg was the initial country to accept people. Later, they started bussing women and children to Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, and Riga. 

Refugee center in Tomaszow Lubelski from where Bullits and Newmark initially transported refugees to Luxembourg, Paris, Berlin, and Riga.
Refugee center in Tomaszow Lubelski from where Bullits and Newmark initially transported refugees to Luxembourg, Paris, Berlin, and Riga.
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

As Russia attempted to take the capital, train lines stopped functioning properly between Lviv and Kyiv, so they moved the buses—about three at the time—deeper into the country to assist. “Thank God these people are taking this risk and working with us,” Bullits says of the two bus companies they work with, who gave them the go-ahead to move the buses into Ukraine. Later, Bullits and Newmark would move the buses further South and East, based on transportation needs within the country.

“There were a number of soldiers who were there saying goodbye to their wives and daughters, and they had tears in their eyes, thanking us for taking their wives and children away,” Newmark says when they were moving people out of Vinnytsia, noting that many of the civilians were reluctant to leave.

One of the children on a bus in Vinnytsia
One of the children on a bus in Vinnytsia
Courtesy of Brooks Newmark

“It’s a real problem for us to persuade people to come to our buses to go for free, even to Europe,” Bullits adds. Newmak later said that some civilians are fearful they will be secretly moved into Russia.

Club Changer founder Steimans is insistent that this is the kind of work angel investors are meant to be doing. 

“Why people invest in startups—it’s not just money, but it’s a social responsibility and opportunity to make the world a better place,” he says, noting that their work in this crisis and war, where lives are at stake, works the same way. “This cruelty of what we see in Ukraine—it’s a disaster. The question is what we as a group of angel investors can do to help.”

The answer is in supporting Ukraine, he says. Club Changer has begun to put together a list of startups or projects seeking funding right now, including visual effects company Zibra AI and venture studio Pawa, and it continues to raise money for its efforts to move women and children to safety within and outside of the country. It is currently raising funds to support the ongoing rescue mission from Kharkiv and Odessa (People who wish to donate can fill out an application form on the Club Changer website). Much of the work for angel investors will still lie ahead, Steimans says, in rebuilding the country.

“Once Ukraine gets to the other side of this war, which hopefully will be sooner than later, they will want to rebuild their country,” Newmark says. “A country is made up of lots and lots of entrepreneurs and businesses, and it’s going to be important that if we want to help rebuild a country, that there are groups such as ours that are in there—helping these entrepreneurs, investing in their businesses, so Ukraine can get back on its feet as quickly as possible.”

For Steimans, moments like these are where angels show their commitment: “Now is a good test. Are you an angel? Or are you just called an angel?” 

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
Email: jessica.mathews@fortune.com
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VENTURE DEALS

- Mavrck, a Boston-based influencer platform, raised $135 million in funding from Summit Partners. In addition, the company acquired Later, a Vancouver-based social media marketing and commerce platform for small business owners and creators.

- KINEXON, a Munich-based connected and automated processes company, raised $130 Million in Series A funding led by Thomas H. Lee Partners and was joined by investors including BMW i Ventures and Telekom Innovation Pool

- Adept, a San Francisco-based research and product A.I. lab, raised $65 million in Series A funding led by Greylock and Addition and was joined by investors including Root Ventures, Behance founder Scott Belsky, Airtable founder Howie Liu, Stanford’s Chris Re, the head of Tesla Autopilot Andrej Karpathy, and Sarah Meyohas.

- Waltz Health, a Chicago-based digital prescription pricing health company, raised $35.4 million in Series A funding led by GV and was joined by investors including Define Ventures, Echo Health Ventures, Blue Venture Fund, Byers Capital, Twine Ventures, and others.  

- Riverside.fm, a Tel Aviv-based remote recording platform, raised $35 million in Series B funding led by Oren Zeev and was joined by investors including Lachy Groom and Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six

- South 8 Technologies, a San Diego-based electrolyte formulations provider for lithium batteries, raised $12 million in Series A funding led by Anzu Partners and was joined by investors including LG Technology Ventures, Shell Ventures, Foothill Ventures, and Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation

- Ravio, a London-based compensation insights platform, raised $10 million in seed funding led by Northzone and was joined by investors including Cherry Ventures and Spark Capital.

- SWTCH Energy, a Toronto-based EV charging provider, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by the venture capital arm of Aligned Climate Capital and was joined by investors including Landmark Management, Elemental Energy, IBI Group, Active Impact Investments, and Pacific Reach.

- Vertex Protocol, a Singapore-based decentralized foreign exchange protocol for multi-currency spot and derivatives trading, raised $8.5 million in seed funding from investors including Hack VC, Dexterity Capital, Jane Street, Hudson River Trading, GSR, Huobi, Collab+Currency, JST Capital, Big Brain, and Lunatic Capital.

- CXIP Labs, a Los Angeles-based NFT minting software developer, raised $6.5 million in funding. Courtside Ventures and Wave Financial led the round and were joined by investors including Vaynerfund, Diplo, Gmoney, Pussy Riot’s Nadya, Justin Aversano, Arca NFT Fund, Infinity Ventures Crypto, Kenetic Capital, Mirana Ventures, Company Ventures, Avalaunch, Soma Capital, Kosmos VC, Palm Drive Capital, and other angels.

- Fancurve, a New York-based blockchain-enabled digital sports fashion company, raised $6.25 million in seed funding led by Greenfield One and was joined by investors including Shima Capital, 6th Man Ventures, OneFootball, Reverb Ventures, Valhalla Capital, MP & Silva co-founder Carlo Pozzali, Sorare growth lead Brian O’Hagan, OneFootball CEO Lucas Von Cranach, and soccer players André Schürrle and Mario Götze.

- Audit Sight, an Atlanta-based auditing verification platform, raised $4 million in Seed+ funding from Hyde Park Venture Partners

- JustiFi, a St. Paul. Minn.-based vertical SaaS payments platform, raised $4 million in Seed+ funding led by Crosslink Capital and was joined by investors including Rally Ventures and Emergence Capital.

- LottieLab, a London-based motion design and collaboration platform, raised $4 million in seed funding led by Point Nine and was joined by investors including 20VC, Entrepreneur First, CEO of Webflow Vlad Magdalin, CEO of Invision Clark Valberg, former CPO of Wordpress Aadil Mamujee, the CPO of Slack Tamar Yehoshua, CEO of Squarespace Anthony Casalena, Former VP at Twitter Rob Bishop, and Ex-CEO of Product Hunt Josh Buckley.

- Neutral Foods, a Portland-based carbon-neutral food company, raised $2.8 million in funding led by Darco Capital’s David Adelman and was joined by angel investors including Lebron James, John Legend, Mav Carter, Questlove, and others.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Cennox, a portfolio company of York Capital Management's private equity group, acquired Lincsafe, Merlin, Cashtester, and Secusystems, Breukelen, Netherlands-based cash automation equipment manufacturer and services providers. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Dreamscape, backed by GTCR, acquired SQAD, a Tarrytown, N.Y.-based advertising research, analytics, and planning tools company. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Nexa Equity acquired Choice, a Hartford, Conn.-based global payments platform. In addition, Choice acquired Direct Payment Consultants, a Mars, Pa.-based payments provider that partners with merchants. Financial terms were not disclosed. 

- Novvia, backed by Kelso & Company, acquired Southern Container, a Dalton, Ga.-based plastic, metal, fiber, and glass packaging products distributor. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- Pearl Street Equity acquired Webonise, a Raleigh, N.C.-based technology product development and services company. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- Providence agreed to acquire Airties, an Istanbul-based cloud-based managed in-home Wi-Fi solutions provider. Financial terms were not disclosed.

- Salesforce Ventures acquired a minority stake in Robots & Pencils, a Cleveland-based digital innovation and solutions firm. Financial terms were not disclosed.

EXITS

- Sensata Technologies agreed to acquire Dynapower, a Burlington, Vt.-based energy storage and power conversion systems manufacturer, from Pfingsten Partners for $580 million. 

- Clearlake Capital Group and TA Associates acquired Kofax, an Irvine, Calif.-based intelligent automation software provider for digital workflow, from Thoma Bravo. Financial terms were not disclosed.  

OTHER

- Beamery acquired Flux, a San Francisco-based employee resourcing platform. Financial terms were not disclosed.

IPOS 

- Americana Group, a Sharjah, United Arab Emirates-based food owner and operator company, chose banks for their IPO, according to Bloomberg. The company is backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and an investment vehicle led by Mohamed Alabbar.

SPAC

- Vivere Lifesciences Acquisition Corp, a SPAC, paused plans to go public in Hong Kong, according to Reuters. VMS Asset Management backs the company.

FUNDS + FUNDS OF FUNDS

- Monroe Capital, a Chicago-based asset management firm, raised $4.8 billion for a fund focused on private credit transactions originated and underwritten by Monroe. 

- Stride Consumer Partners, a Waltham, Mass.-based private equity firm, raised $420 million for a fund focused on consumer products and services. 

- Ansa Capital, a New York-based venture capital firm, raised $100 million for its first fund focused on early stage growth companies and founders. 

PEOPLE

- Dell Tech Capital, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture capital arm of Dell Technologies, hired Omri Green as partner. Formerly, he was with Grove Ventures.

- Jump Capital, a Chicago-based venture capital firm, hired Austin Chung as vice president and Robb Hutchins as vice president of growth. Formerly, Chung was with Touchdown Ventures and Hutchins was with Amazon.

- Sorenson Ventures, a Lehi, Utah and Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture capital firm, hired Michelle Moon as principal. Formerly, she was with LG Technology Ventures.

- Triago, a New York and Paris-based private equity advisor, promoted Matt Swain to global CEO. 

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