Sophia Business Angels News - Volume 9

SBA Connect Special Edition 

Sophia Business Angels 20th Anniversary Year 

As the curtain draws to a close on the SBA’s 20th Anniversary Year, we would like to take the occasion to share some highlights of the year and wish all of our community around the world a peaceful and prosperous New Year 2023!

Please enjoy the photos below of our SBA Celebrations throughout this past year reflecting the SBA’s local, regional, national and international DNA, get to know our latest investments, and meet our newest members.

Our 20th Anniversary year also gave us the occasion to reflect on the next 20 years of the SBA and Angel Investing, in general.  More structured partnerships, opportunities to attract younger membership, and the reaffirmation of our local, regional, national and international DNA were some of the outcomes that will guide us going forward.

On this occasion, we would like to thank our SBA Members and Business Angels throughout the world who invest in entrepreneurs and ensure the health of innovation and the early stage ecosystem in Sophia Antipolis, PACA, France, and internationally.

We are looking forward to continuing to grow the early stage investment community together with you, our valued friends, colleagues, and partners in the coming year and would also like to extend a special wish for the health of all of you and our planet.

The SBA Board:  Candace Johnson, Eric Cokini, Edgardo da Fonseca, Barbara Saxby, Marcel Dridje, Patrick Kedziora, Audra Shallal, Cyrille Flament, Charlie Sidman, the SBA 20th Anniversary Chair, Jean-Louis Brelet and SBA Business Manager Sara Bentsen


Sophia Business Angels 20th Anniversary Celebrations

We had some truly wonderful events to celebrate our big anniversary. The photos below start with the Grand Finale Gala on 21 October with our SBA IVA, followed by our celebration at the EBAN Angel Investment Summit.  We then share the photos from our SBA StartUp Factory on 22 September and our celebration with France Angels and Mer Angels at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes on 07 September.  

SBA 20th Anniversary Gala 21 October 2022:  We celebrated 20 years of early stage innovation and investing in grand style, first at the Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence, where the SBA was inaugurated 20 years ago by Senator Pierre Laffitte and SBA Founding President Edgardo da Fonseca.  From there we moved on right next door to the fabulous villa of Marco and Diana Landi, who graciously received the more than 120 guests – entrepreneurs, fellow investors, incubators, accelerators, government officials, etc who had come from around the world to celebrate our 20th Anniversary.

A special thanks to our SBA 20th Anniversary Sponsor, Allianz Accelerateur, who has been driving innovation, entrepreneurship, and scaling up around the world.  Champagne Roederer graciously provided the champagne and wine for this gala evening 

From left to right:  Sylvain Theveniaud Allianz Accelerateur and SBA Member, Ian Sosso, Jerome Chifflet, Jean-Louis Brelet, Marco Landi, Diane Landi and Jean-Claude Goldenstein 

Reception at Fondation Maeght 

Lifetime Achievement Awards 

SBA Founding President Edgardo da Fonseca 

SBA Board Emeritus Member Annie Prodhomme:

During our SBA 20th Anniversary Grand Finale Gala on 21 October, we were privileged to honor two wonderful individuals who have imbued the Sophia Business Angels with their constant commitment, professionalism, hard work, and enthusiasm.

The SBA 20th Anniversary International Venture Academy Special Edition 20-22 October

The Grand Finale was preceded by a Special Edition of our International Venture Academy 20-22 October. Ten "Almost Investment Ready" StartUps joined us from such places as Georgia, Greece, France, and Germany, accompanied by their Angel Club investors. We were pleased to be royally hosted by Data Corp, also our new domicile going forward, for the entire day of 21 October before going to the Gala that evening. 



Celebration SBA's 20th Anniversary on Center Stage at 

EBAN's Angel Investment Summit in Brussels  10 October 2022


EBAN Director General Jacopo Losso  and SBA Members Candace Johnson, Audra Shallal, Jean-Louis Brelet, Patrick Kedyiora, Charlie Sidman, Ian Sosso and Jerome Nollet 

SBA Members Ian Sosso, Audra Shallal, Charlie Sidman, Jerome Nollet, Patrick Kedziora, Candace Johnson 

Audra Shallal and Jerome Nollet have their cake and eat it too!

SBA 20th Anniversary Special Edition StartUp Factory at

La Bastide Rouge with Cannes Pays de Lerins, 22 September 2022: 

It was with a great deal of pride and emotion that we welcomed Stéphane Asikian, Founder and CEO of Pollustock and Cannes Municipal Councilor in charge of AI, Grégori BONETTO to our 20th Anniversary Special Edition of the StartUp Factory.   Stephane paid special tribute to the SBA and noted that winning the StartUp Factory in September 2020 had put him and Pollustock ( on the path to success.  The 22 September 2022 SUF focused on AI and also featured Derrick de Kerckhove giving a Keynote on AI and Art.

Stéphane Asikian and Grégori BONETTO

SBA Members Marc Cetto and Yan Cornil

Senator Laffitte Innovation Prize announced at

SBA- France Agels- Anges Mer 20thAnniversary celebration 07 September at 

the Palais des Festival, Cannes:  

At this wonderful celebration attended by more than 100 Angel Investors, Entrepreneurs and government officials from all around France, the SBA paid homage to the late Senator Pierre Laffitte, founder of Sophia Antipolis and the Sophia Business Angels with the Senator Laffitte Innovation Prize. The prize is being given to 7 entrepreneurs from Sophia Antipolis, the PACA region, France, and Europe, reflecting the vision of Senator Laffitte. We were honored to have his widow, Isabelle Laffitte with us for the occasion. All winners will benefit from extensive mentoring, investment and professional accompaniment.

From right to left SBA Members:  Jerome Nollet, Sylvain Theveniaud, Robin Arkus, Gene Zolotarev, Barbara Saxby, Candace Johnson, Edgardo da Fonseca, Marco Landi, Jean-Louis Brelet, Jerome Chifflet, and Ian Sosso 

Investment Updates/SBA Porfolio: 

SBA Investment Activity 2022:  


SBA Investment Activity 2022:  

The SBA continued its investment activity at a great pace during our Anniversary year with 5 follow on investments in EMPE, PharmediStore, Interstellar Lab, Trust Place, and Gomecano.  Five new investments in The Exploration Company, K-Motors, Nanoz, Holivia and EquiSafe completed the investment activity for the year.  2022 also saw the first two SPV’s (Special Purpose Vehicles) being created for the investments in The Exploration Company and Interstellar Lab, allowing us to extend our international reach and investment power, heralding what we believe will be a new vehicle for Angel Investing.


New Members:

Our international SBA Member Community continued to grow in 2022:  We were thrilled to welcome three new additions to our SBA Membership during 2022, Olivier Bisserier (FR) Robin Arkus (USA) and Gene Zolotarev (USA).

The advisors at Sophia Business Angels are a team of successful men and women who previously enjoyed careers as entrepreneurs or corporate executives and bring international expertise from diverse disciplines, industries and countries.

Olivier Bisserier : Advisor l Supervisory Board Director l Ex CFO

Q. What made you want to become a startup advisor and angel investor?

Our future economic prosperity, the health and strength of our society over the next decades would mostly come from new ventures. This isn’t new but regrettably often forgotten. And I feel whoever appreciates this and has benefited from these ventures in the past like working in tech should whenever possible contribute to making new entrepreneurs successful. And whilst it may sound like a duty, it’s actually very enjoyable.

Q. What was the most rewarding job you have had in the past?

I was lucky to join in Amsterdam as CFO between 2010 and 2019 when - with the company’s leadership team - we grew the business tenfold and became the third largest ecommerce company in the world after Alibaba and Amazon.

To make this happen at a truly global scale with our staff while climbing a very steep learning curve everyday as an individual and a team was incredibly fulfilling.

I lived abroad over most of the last 30 years and wanted to come and settle in France where I was born and grew up. I simply thought the area was the most wonderful region in the country. I’m still partly based in Amsterdam but will fully relocate to the Cote d’Azur in a few months. Joining Sophia Business Angels allows me to develop my mentoring, investment and continue growing  my international community.


Robin Arkus : Author | Financial Services and Real Estate Advisor

Q. What brought you to the Côte d’Azur…

In 1991, I sold my financial services company in Houston, Texas, and departed on a ten-year trip around the world. Along with my late husband we sold our home, rented a villa in Tuscany for three months, and set off to see the world. While building our company, we had travelled extensively but our endgame strategy never wavered. Our company had been founded with a carefully plotted intent of building it to sell once we had achieved a fixed sum which we determined would support us for the rest of our lives. Although we were both in our 40’s, we had no interest in achieving enormous wealth, just enough to live comfortably for the rest of our lives. Looking back thirty years we probably should have added another zero to our sum, but for the past three decades I have lived a wonderful life “on the road” experiencing how the rest of the world lives. 

In the early years of our peripatetic wanderings we rented villas, apartments, and beach shacks in Europe, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Middle East, but it was France to which we always returned, eventually semi-settling down on the Côte d’Azur. I still maintain homes in a number of countries, but it is Cannes where my heart belongs.

  Q. What was the most rewarding experience…

Best that I combine these two questions, as one response segues directly into the other. In 1980, the concept for the company which I eventually organized, built, managed, and subsequently sold was one of those proverbial “back of a napkin” stories. I think that I still have that crumpled up bit of tissue paper. This was long before the internet ran the world and outsourcing was a way of life. Computers were still housed in ginormous facilities requiring tons of air-conditioning and constant vigilance by a team of programmers. Having no concept of the giant challenge that we were embarking upon, we created a company which would circumvent the traditional, commercial, bank clearing systems and set up an independent Houston Clearing House for our clients. What had originally started with handling micr-encoding only quickly mushroomed into full check processing, cash processing, armored cars, non-armored transit, and bookkeeping services company. The largest Texas banks regarded us as competition, which we took as a great compliment. With three shifts daily and several hundred employees it was a most rewarding business experience. Not that it wasn’t filled with roadblocks, disasters, and more sleepless nights than I thought a human being could endure. 

Along with my relentless traveling, I have continued adding to my extensive art collection with acquisitions from many of the places that I have visited. I also have overseen residential property developments around the world and written several romance novels. Becoming a member of the Sophia Business Angels will be my first foray into the structured world of startup investing. I am looking forward to the challenge while sharing my business experience with aspiring entrepreneurs.


Gene Zolotarev  :


1. What brought you to the Cote d’Azur and how long have you been here?

I have been here for about 15 years. It’s an excellent base to run my business / family office from. 

2. What is the most amazing place you have travelled too (in the world)?

That would have to be the Sinai desert. 

3. If you were a teacher, what subject would you enjoy teaching most?

I am a teacher of Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship. 

4. Do you have a favorite song or piece of music that inspires you?

I like everything. 

5. What is your favorite way to spend a day (no work involved)?

A bit of sport, a bit of work, and a long dinner with family and friends.

6. Is there a special person in your life (past or present) that motivates (ed) you?

My parents set a high bar :)

7.What made you want to become a startup advisor and angel investor?

The desire to use my considerable network and experience. 

8. What was the most rewarding job you have had in the past?

Running an investment bank. 

9. Can you tell us about an interesting startup you are involved with now?

Qbix - basically a "wordpress" for social networks; will revolutionize how we create digital communities.  

10. What do you look for when evaluating a company to invest in?

Aside from the usual metrics, I evaluate the resilience of the founders.  

11. Any advice for entrepreneurs thinking about starting a business?

Work in the same field for at least 3 years. 

12. Are there any specific industry sectors or product categories you prefer?

Scalable tech - no manufacturing or deep science. 

We would like to stay connected with you!


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