Former Maersk Executive Launches Nine Realms, Backed by World's Super-Rich

Published: Friday, March 29, 2024

A former A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S executive is building an investment firm backed by the world’s super-rich after leading a venture unit that notched roughly fourfold gains for the shipping giant.

Sune Stilling’s Nine Realms is seeking to raise €200 million ($218 million) for its debut fund. It will focus on early-stage investments in technology companies across Europe and North America that target supply-chain issues, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Copenhagen-based venture firm has already secured about half that amount from major family offices as well as institutional investors and is set to hold a primary close of the fund by the end of March, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the details are private.

Representatives for Nine Realms and Maersk declined to comment.

Supply chains have become an increasingly urgent area of focus for lawmakers and businesses worldwide. Global trade was disrupted by pandemic lockdowns and Russia’s Ukraine invasion, both of which caused shipping costs to surge. It now faces another challenge in the Red Sea, where attacks on ships by Iran-backed Houthi rebels are disrupting commercial routes.

Venture capital funding for startups targeting the supply-chain sector slumped to $3.6 billion through the first half of 2023, down about 80% from to the same period a year earlier, according to data from Maersk Growth and PitchBook.

Meantime, fewer than three dozen first-time venture funds in Europe reached their final fundraising targets in the first half of last year amid a global downturn in valuations for early-stage companies, according to research from venture firm Atomico. Even when startup valuations are rising, it can often take a VC fund from two to three years to raise its first vehicle.

Maersk Origins

Stilling, 46, set up Nine Realms in 2020 after working at Maersk for about two decades in roles spanning Egypt, Senegal, and Singapore.

He became the first head of the venture arm Maersk Growth in 2017, his final role before leaving the shipping giant. Maersk Growth’s first fund started investing in 2018 with at least €80 million of capital and had total gains of more than 300% through the end of last year, said one of the people with knowledge of the matter.

One successful bet was a 2019 investment in Forto, a Berlin-based logistics digitization startup that saw its valuation almost double in subsequent funding rounds from 2021 to 2022. Maersk Growth also allocated funds in 2018 to Loadsmart, an online marketplace for booking trucking services. It more than tripled its valuation to $1.3 billion in a 2022 Series D funding round led by SoftBank Group Corp.’s Latin America fund.

Nine Realms now has a global team of about a dozen staff including Peter Hove Hildebrandt, who worked at Maersk for more than a decade. It’s aiming to start deploying capital from its first fund later this year, focusing on global trends such as artificial intelligence, digitization and sustainability, the people said.