Europe’s first-ever athlete-led fund on their not-so-little ‘black book’ of public figure investors

The first-of-its-kind athlete-led VC firm in the UK is empowering the athlete community as investors with a UK£40 million (US$50.97 million) venture capital fund, by athletes, for athletes. The Players Fund’s unique approach to venture capital marks a significant departure from traditional investment models with the implementation of an athlete committee to support the operational and technical teams.

Players Fund Founders, Ruari & Fergus Bell

Brought together by ex-athlete brothers Fergus and Ruari Bell, the distribution-focused firm represents a new frontier in VC. Commenting on the launch Fergus, Founder and Managing Partner at The Players Fund said:

“We are noticing a major shift in founder requirements. Ultimately, all VCs want to invest in the top 1% of founders. These founders come with prior experience, meaning they understand what type of tangible value investors can and should provide. For the majority, the goal is still raising capital, but top-performing founders will expect tangible distribution value.”

Ben Stokes, England’s Test Cricket Captain is one of the athletes backing the fund.

Meet the Players 

The firm will bring together influential athlete-founded collectives including 4CAST (an athlete entrepreneurial collective led by Ben Stokes, captain of England’s Test cricket team and former teammate, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Tyrone Mings, Anthony Watson and more); ForGood, (footballer Chris Smalling’s athlete VC network); B-Engaged, (led by Héctor Bellerín and Serge Gnabry); and Robbie Earle’s US based group featuring prominent NBA athletes. By merging under one umbrella, this “joining of families” creates an athlete investor network at scale across the UK and Europe to educate, empower and back the next generation of athlete investors and founders.

Throwback to the start 

Following several years in professional sporting careers, in 2019 the sibling team had what they call a ‘sliding-door moment’ when they turned their focus from sports and real estate to venture capital to establish The Bell Partnership – an active Angel investment vehicle to support the next generation of emerging consumer businesses alongside leading public figures within our network.

In 2020, mid-pandemic, the athlete community was faced with major shifts in live sporting events. Many of these public figures faced a threat to their livelihood when sporting events were canceled, or broadcasters put major events on hold. This led them to launch 4CAST alongside a dozen of the UK’s leading athletes to serve as the UK’s first athlete collective – an athlete group pursuing and supporting enterprise opportunities together, as one.

“There’s always been a deep affinity between founders and athletes. Both require equal amounts of resilience, talent and luck. Especially in a consumer-driven world, players, clubs and franchises all add to an exceptional network that can be leveraged more than ever before to support growing startups.”

Rowena Samarasinhe, Mike Turns, Fergus Bell, Ben Stokes, Ruari Bell and Bob Wiggly

Not your typical VC Fund

The Players Fund is based on 3 core principles:

  1. Exceptional Athlete Network – Athletes backing the fund have an unrivaled network that supports founders, leveraging player networks to add value for growing startups and deal distribution. 
  2. Product Insights and Development – The fund combines insights across industries like sports, nutrition and media communities with their knowledge of consumer products.
  3. Marketing, Investor Committee and IP – Players Fund’s strategy lives and dies by supporting the exposure and visability of their portfolio substantially, allowing founders and athlete investors to advance their VC journey. The investor committee at the fund include ex-leaders from Deliveroo, Amazon and startups lead at Stripe.

“As co-investor for Seed to Series A, our IP is that we have 7 or 8 pairs of eyes to ensure great access to deals and distribution channels to attract those investors.”

Looking into the crystal ball 

When asked about the fund’s ambitions for the remainder of 2023 and what we can expect in 2024, Fergus said:

“Valuations can no longer be cheated. Based on the trend toward deal distribution we anticipate the emergence of smaller funds in the future. Can you offer your founders a tangible go-to-market strategy? Do your fund Managers have a network and audience? It’s likely that funds will make the shift toward constructing the right investor base versus spotting the best startup.”

In the current capital landscape, the world of VC is becoming more collaborative. The Players Fund sees itself first and foremost as a partner investor, as opposed to a lead investor. 

Since the official launch of the fund, Fergus and Ruari have been blown away by the amount of inbound from the athlete community, bridging the gap between athletes and the venture system. They are especially noticing an increase of B2B with B2C for dual-purpose consumer products. This could be for consumer products that develop an algorithm, release and API, or develop a client frontend and backend to sell to enterprises and gain scale.  


Curiosity sparked?
Founders can get in touch with the Players Fund at contact@playersfund.vc. Please include a summary and company deck during outreach.

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