Appen is an Australian success story. Anacacia Capital’s backing of the founders have helped grow Appen into a leading company on the ASX, growing its shareholder value more than 100 times since Anacacia’s first investment in 2009 and more than 20 times its initial public offering price in 2015, now employing over 1,000 staff and over a million contractors through its crowd.

Appen is global leader in the development of high-quality, human annotated datasets for machine learning and artificial intelligence for use by technology companies and world governments.

Appen was founded in 1996 by linguist Dr Julie Vonwiller and her engineer husband, Chris Vonwiller. Prior to Anacacia’s investment, Appen was reliant on its founders to run the business and make strategic contributions. As Julie and Chris approached retirement, they sought a more hands-off role in the business and the need for succession planning.

Anacacia Capital acquired a majority share in Appen in 2009, with the founders retaining a meaningful share. At the time of investment, Anacacia Capital and the Appen founders agreed to bolster the management team. Anacacia Capital led the recruitment process through its networks and helped structure a plan for the management team to invest into Appen alongside Anacacia and the founders. This aligned the interests of the management team with the success of the business. Anacacia Capital also worked to further improve governance, including assisting in boosting the finance and business development team, putting in place a non-executive board of directors that included Anacacia Capital’s Jeremy Samuel and Jon Shein.

Appen produced $107m EBITDA on $600m of revenue in calendar year 2020. Prior to Anacacia Capital’s investment in Appen, the company had annual sales of less than $10 million and employed 34 full time staff. Anacacia Capital sourced and led Appen’s first major acquisition that materially increased their US presence closer to their customers. In January 2015 Appen floated on the ASX and Anacacia Capital began a staged exited from its investment by its venture capital limited partnership fund. At the same time, Anacacia’s Australian focused public equities fund, the Wattle Fund, increased its holding in Appen.

Chris Vonwiller announced his retirement as the Non-Executive Chairman of the Company in 2021. Anacacia have helped the family achieve their objectives of a staged retirement. They now have more time to spend with family and can also look proudly at the successful partnership with Anacacia (and then later investors) that turbo-charged the growth of Appen into one of Australia’s largest technology companies servicing many of the world’s largest technology companies. It has been life changing for the Vonwiller family and also for the loyal Appen staff that invested alongside Anacacia Capital and still play major leadership roles in the company today. This also improved the professional development skills of the Anacacia team that have gone on to continue to back successful leading SMEs. This is one of Australia’s most successful venture capital limited partnership stories.

In September, the Australian Investment Council lodged a very important submission with the Federal Department of the Treasury in response to the Venture Capital Tax Concessions Review which was announced as part of the Government’s Digital Economy Strategy in the 2021–22 Federal Budget. The review has been focused on how effective VCLPs, ESVCLPs and AFOFs have been in attracting domestic and foreign capital, developing innovation, and expanding venture capital management skills and experience in the domestic market. Read the submission here.

Published February, 2022

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