Largest pre-seed round ever raised by female founders in Europe

Belong, a new wealth-building platform, has launched after securing £2.95m in pre-seed funding – the largest pre-seed round ever raised by female founders in Europe.

Founded by former investment banker Avion Gray and behavioural economist Samantha Rosenberg, Belong aims to make forms of wealth-building that have traditionally been the realm of a wealthy few, accessible to a wider demographic, with a focus on professionally-employed millennials.

Belong, which has been operating in stealth, is the first platform to offer customers an optional loan to scale up a long-term investment in equities. It has created a new low interest ‘Boost loan’ feature, which allows more money to be invested upfront, thus magnifying the effect of compounding over time. Customers then pay back the Boost loan separately, in small monthly instalments, allowing their investment to continue to grow.

In the past, applying leverage, or borrowed capital, to enhance long-term financial outcomes has been restricted to wealthier investors, but with a £1,000 minimum investment, this is something that millennials may find more accessible. The positive demand from Belong's beta customers is early evidence that this product is highly appealing to the target demographic - to date, 84% of customers have opted for a Boost loan, with 100% retention and on-time repayments after 15 months.

Millennials are the first generation in history to be worse off, financially, than their parents, and despite making up the majority of the population (22%), they own less than 5% of the stock market. That said, Belong estimates that 18-44 year olds in the UK alone have access to an estimated £300 billion in cash  savings. This tends to be sat in low interest savings or current accounts, or at best, a cash ISA. As millennials themselves, Belong’s co-founders are on a mission to change this and shake up the investment space.

“We need two things in order to build long-term wealth – time and money, but we rarely have both of these elements concurrently. Millennials still have the time ahead of us to see any long-term investment we make now compound and pay off before retirement, but we often struggle to get started. Whether that’s due to not being able to secure a mortgage, lack of confidence around investing or feeling like we don’t have enough cash available to make it worthwhile – Belong is changing this,” commented Avion Gray, Co-Founder & CEO of Belong.

"Historically, despite daily movements, the stock market has shown an upward trajectory over the long term – to the tune of 10%+ per year. An investment in the broad market is inherently diversified, transparent in value, and accessible. This makes the Boost loan attractive for anyone with excess cash, a steady income, and the mindset to stay the course and be long.”

Originally from Trinidad, Avion Gray studied finance at Howard University before going into investment banking and completing her MBA at Stanford. More recently she held the role of Head of Product & Commercialisation at POS systems and merchant service provider Clover, where she oversaw the launch and expansion of the business in the US and across Europe.

Raised in South Africa, co-founder and COO Samantha Rosenberg is an economist, specialised in behavioural finance. She was part of the first team of applied behavioural specialists in Africa, working with financial institutions across Africa and Europe to encourage people towards making better financial decisions over the long-term. More recently, Samantha completed her MBA at London Business School.

“The excess money millennials keep in savings accounts or cash ISAs is simply not working hard enough for us. Not investing it, means we are losing out on our primary wealth building years,” commented Belong Co-Founder and COO Samantha Rosenberg.

“People like the idea of having easy access to their cash, but this is often due to present bias - the tendency to discount one’s future self in favour of more immediate gratification. Our future self feels like a stranger, and it’s difficult to make sacrifices for that person today.

“Investing is also something that, in the past, was seen as reserved for the rich or finance-savvy, but that’s no longer the case. We want to use what we know about financial decision making to change perceptions around investing, creating a social movement around ‘being long’ and getting more young people set up for a wealthier future.”

Avion and Samantha were introduced to each other by Nick Hungerford, the successful British entrepreneur who founded the first regulated robo-advisor in Europe, Nutmeg, which was sold to JP Morgan for almost £700m in 2021. Nick, who shared the vision of democratising wealth building and empowering a new generation of investors, was an advisor and close mentor to the Belong founders before his untimely passing in July 2023.

Other investors to date include Octopus Ventures, Viola Fintech, Connect Ventures, Portage Ventures, and  January Ventures, along with prominent Fintech angel investors, Ricky Knox and Gautham Radhakrishnan, Nutmeg co-founder, William Todd, leading UK Economist, John Kay and tech industry maven, Edwina Johnson.

Zihao Xu, Fintech Partner at Octopus Ventures said: "We are proud to be on this journey with Belong and look forward to supporting the company in its quest to be a true pioneer in long-term wealth-building. Samantha and Avion’s shared vision and complementary expertise puts them in a great position to help more people get on the path to a better financial future.”

At launch, Belong users are able to choose from five different broadly diversified index tracking funds to invest in. This includes the MSCI World,  S&P 500, FTSE as well as climate and ESG focused funds.