Adrien Gheur jokes that when he tells people that he lived in eight different countries spread across four continents while growing up, they reply that his parents must have been diplomats, spies, or convicts.
The youngest of five children, Adrien has lived in South Africa, Canada, USA, Belgium, Hong Kong, UK, Indonesia, Singapore, and New Zealand, and much like his venture fund partner at Nuance Connected Capital, Ngaio Merrick, he spent his early childhood surrounded by many different kinds of people. His father was in fact a mining engineer who was driven by a sense of wanderlust and a desire to take the path less traveled. Adrien credits his father for instilling in him an adventurous spirit and an appetite for taking risks. While he loved meeting people from all walks of life and coming to appreciate the different ways in which they lived, the flipside is that he never really felt a sense of belonging anywhere.
After studying commerce at the University of Edinburgh, Adrien landed a job on the Principle Investments team at Goldman Sachs in London. He got his first taste of the world of venture capital, learning a lot about investing, innovation, and what it takes to effectively run a company. His career took him into public market investing for a few years, but the pull of the entrepreneurial world and the desire to work more closely with people would eventually draw him back to venture capital.
“I’ve always been interested in innovation and technology, and the very human struggle of the entrepreneurial journey. I admire the tenacity and perseverance of entrepreneurs and appreciate the risks they have to take to realise their vision.”
When the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, Adrien began a period in his life that he refers to as his “years in the wilderness”. He lost his job, his marriage broke down, and he traveled to India to begin what would become a life-long journey with yoga. It was a life-defining time, as he learned the value of humility, non-judgement, and the lessons that can only come from falling flat on your face and having to rebuild from scratch.
“It was a pivotal time in my life, as I came to learn how destructive the ego can be, and how to manage it and put it in its place. Losing everything and starting over holds huge catharsis. Life is about letting go - that’s when the real freedom comes.”
It was also in India where he met the person who would eventually lure him to Aotearoa New Zealand for the first time. After coming to catch up and train with his yoga guru in Gisborne in 2012, he initially fell in love with the purity of the natural landscape. Adrien co-founded his first early stage venture capital fund Maloekoe Ventures in Indonesia in 2015, and so on subsequent trips he dedicated some time towards investigating New Zealand’s start-up ecosystem and was blown away by the talent and spirit of resourcefulness of the entrepreneurs. Creative thinking was prevalent, the people were aligned with his values, and the founders seemed grounded in humility. Something kept pulling him back and while he didn’t realise it at the time, New Zealand was starting to provide the sense of belonging that he had been seeking for so long.
On his business trips Adrien began to notice a significant gap in early stage capital in New Zealand, with many promising start-ups becoming stuck when it came to seeking Seed or Series A and B funding. Most companies suffered a distinct lack of connectivity to international markets, so when he became aware of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship and New Zealand’s Global Impact Visa, he jumped at the chance to apply. After being accepted as an investor Fellow, he was deeply impacted by the orientation welcome week:
“I was expecting a business conference of sorts where everyone would exchange business cards. But it turned out to be much more intimate, getting to know all my cohort in a very human, personal way. The way that everyone was so open and vulnerable with each other was inspiring and it was only at the end of the week, that we actually learned what everyone did as a vocation. During the week no one knew and no one cared and that was incredibly refreshing.”
The design of the welcome week also provided Adrien with a strong foundation in Te Ao Māori and an understanding of doing business in a culturally appropriate way in Aotearoa New Zealand, a grounding which he deeply appreciates. His connection to the EHF network sped up his integration into the start-up ecosystem, and inspired by his experiences in this progressive, forward-thinking nation full of great talent, Adrien soon got to work in developing a new early stage venture capital fund. The seeds of Nuance Connected Capital were planted, and he has since been steadily deepening his connections in the country. He had a hand in bringing the distinctive purple Beam e-scooters to New Zealand, and is a Seed investor in the company.
His desire to support regional centres outside the big cities saw Adrien and his wife settling on the outskirts of the port city of Tauranga, New Zealand’s 5th biggest city. His view is that disruption can happen anywhere and remoteness can be a strength, particularly as many entrepreneurs are starting to move away from monolithic start-up locations like Silicon Valley to smaller centres of innovations where collaborative relationships can be forged more quickly. Having previously lived in big cities like Hong Kong, London, and Singapore, the semi-rural lifestyle also appealed, and he has been enjoying the quiet and the space to be out of the commotion and see things more clearly.
"Sometimes being away from the commotion, one gets a clearer perspective and it is easier to separate the signals from the noise."
Over the course of 2020, Adrien had been looking for a Kiwi founding partner and in January 2021 after a couple of serendipitous turns, he got in touch with Ngaio Merrick who he had met 18 months earlier. Ngaio had been speaking with the Co-founder and Chair of Alvarium, Andrew Williams, about creating a new fund and the three got talking. An aligned set of values and moral compass, combined with shared histories of multi-cultural childhoods and a people-centric attitude provided for a great foundation to work together. A number of conversations later, Ngaio came on board as a founding partner and Alvarium signed on as the cornerstone investor for the fund.
In his journey across 20+ years of venture capital and private equity investing, Adrien has learned that investing is so much more of a people game than one of finance. He has learned, sometimes the hard way, to spot the red flags in founders and teams and has become much more dedicated to investing in people over products. The great challenge as he sees it is to find a balance between empowering his founders to leverage their strengths and build their companies, and knowing when to step in and support them as a mentor, collaborator, and attentive venture partner.
While Adrien reflects that there is a lot of competition to support great ideas in larger markets, he thinks the game is just beginning in New Zealand for early stage venture capital. He is thrilled to be partnering with such an accomplished and dynamic team to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem at this early stage in its evolution. He’s excited to help bring founder-friendly connected capital to this underappreciated market, and empower talented, pioneering Kiwi entrepreneurs to achieve incredible results in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.