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

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

maximum 40 members

“If we settled on the Côte d’Azur, it is thanks to Senator Pierre Laffitte.” Candace Johnson, with a singing American accent, is co-chair of the SBAs [avec Eric Cokini, ndlr], a club with 40 members (maximum). She does not utter these words without emotion because Senator Laffitte, whom she greatly appreciated, died last year. They meet in 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 Sophia Business Angels with Edgardo da Fonseca, founding president. We are in 2002. To celebrate the club’s 20th anniversary, the party was of course held at the Maeght Foundation in tribute to Senator Laffitte. Candace Johnson, with an extraordinary career [lire par ailleurs] has thus gathered 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 monitor. 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-chairman. 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 SBA’s flagship events was born: the Venture Academy. Twice a year several members of the SBA present the young admissions, the “mentors” who come from all over the world. We coach and listen to the pitches that are presented in front of an audience of qualified investors. “To create business flow, smiles Candace Johnson, it often works by recommendation. You should know that once a startup has raised money from a business angel, it can raise up to seven times more from banks and venture capitalists. The DNA of SBAs? The international. All speak English and must aim for a global market. In general, 40% of the presented startups receive investments.


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

Senator Laffitte Innovation Award

On this anniversary eve, the creation of a Pierre Laffitte innovation prize was announced. Seven companies will be selected to receive investment and coaching. Sophia Business Angels has already invested in around sixty innovative start-ups. In 2021, for example, GoMecano, Holivia, Pharmedistore, Azuvia, Interstellar Lab, Equisafe, Trust Place, Unmia 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 company. It’s being part of something that will make a difference.”

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