The Sophia business angels, international entrepreneurs who invest in innovation from Sophia Antipolis, are celebrating their 20th anniversary

Known as SBA for Sophia Business Angels, these angels of tech, who invest and grow innovative startups from here and elsewhere, are celebrating their 20th anniversary in the territory of Sophia Antipolis. Who are they ?

40 members max

“If we settled on the Côte d’Azur, it is thanks to Senator Pierre Laffitte.” Candace Johnson, with a singing American accent, co-chairs the SBAs [avec Eric Cokini, ndlr], a club with 40 members (the maximum). She pronounces these words not without emotion because Senator Laffitte, whom she greatly appreciated, died last year. They meet at the Maeght Foundation and imagine the creation of this club. “I had the choice between Seattle, San Francisco and Sophia Antipolis, Senator Laffitte has finished convincing me.” Candace Johnson then launched the Sophia Business Angels with Edgardo da Fonseca, founding president. We are in 2002. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the club, the party was naturally held at the Maeght Foundation in tribute to Senator Laffitte. Candace Johnson, with an extraordinary career [lire par ailleurs] has thus brought together a group of equally talented men and women, already entrepreneurs or business leaders, to bring their international expertise to the startups they will present and oversee. In total, there are 256 startups monitored, 889 investor partners, 127 events held and 36 successful startups.

boot camp

It all started with the organization of a three-day bootcamp in 2002. “We brought in engineers from all over the world to train them to create their startup here in Sophia, explains the co-president. For our part, we learned to become business angels with the help in particular of Professor Alan Barrell (Cambridge), now an honorary member of the SBAs.” After five years, they opened other angel investor clubs: in Istanbul, Mumbai, Cologne…

Venture Academy

It was then, around 2007, that one of the flagship events of the SBAs was born: Venture Academy. Twice a year several members of the SBA present the young shoot they “mentor”, coming from all over the world. We coach and we listen to the pitches presented in front of an audience of qualified investors. “To create business flow, smiles Candace Johnson, it often works on recommendation. You should know that when a startupper has raised funds from a business angel, he can then raise up to seven times more from banks and venture capitalists. The DNA of SBAs? The international. Everyone speaks English and must aim for a global market. In general, 40% of the startuppers presented receive investment.


From 2011, the other flagship event was born: the Startup Factory, dedicated to local start-ups or students who are thinking about creating their own startup. They come to network with private investors, bankers and other experts in the local ecosystem to gauge the feasibility of their project and accelerate their growth. The Pollustock company [spécialisée dans la conception et fabrication de filets antidéchets basée à Mandelieu-la-Napoule, ndlr] took off in 2002 thanks to the Startup Factory. Artificial intelligence, metaverse, sustainable development, blockchain will be new themes of Startup Factory.

Senator Laffitte Innovation Award

On this anniversary evening, the creation of a Pierre Laffitte innovation prize was announced. Seven companies will be selected to receive investment and coaching. The Sophia Business Angels have already invested in around sixty innovative start-ups. In 2021, GoMecano, Holivia, Pharmedistore, Azuvia, Interstellar Lab, Equisafe, Trust Place, Unmia, for example, received an initial investment or a capital increase from SBAs for 450,000 euros. For Candace Johnson, “Being a business angel means being present at a key moment in the business. It’s being part of something that will make a difference.”

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The Sophia business angels, international entrepreneurs who invest in innovation from Sophia Antipolis, are celebrating their 20th anniversary

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