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Acquisitions: Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris

Acquisitions: Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris

Acquisitions: Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris

Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and French entrepreneur Ian Gallienne are betting their blank-check company can stand out from a crowded market by focusing on European targets.

Avanti Acquisition, which is set to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange today, is pitching its focus on family- and founder-led European targets to investors. So far, it seems to be working: The new vehicle is expected to raise about $600m (€511m), up from the initial target of $500m, according to people familiar with the matter.

NNS Group, the family office of Sawiris, and Sienna Capital, a unit of $15bn European investment vehicle Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, also plan to invest about $100m on top of that amount, said the people, who asked not to be identified because discussions are private.

Avanti is being dubbed the largest US-listed SPAC to focus on European acquisitions, where company valuations are traditionally below the US. The vehicle is scouting for targets among the continent's large population of family-owned firms.

The SPAC is seeking high-growth companies in sectors including technology, health and consumer and is expected to target those worth €2bn to €4bn or more.

Sawiris and GBL's chief executive officer Gallienne are entering a crowded space where potential targets are being acquired quickly. This year, 118 SPACs have raised more than $44bn in initial public offerings (IPOs) on US exchanges, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That's more than half the total raised by SPACs in all previous years, the data show.

The SPAC's backers have been pitching their track record of high-profile European investments to attract investors, the people said. Both firms behind the SPAC have invested in LafargeHolcim, the world's biggest cement maker since a 2014 merger, as well as athletic-shoe maker Adidas.

Sawiris is Egypt's wealthiest man with a net worth of about $5.6bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has invested in Dutch fertilizer producer OCI NV as well as English soccer club Aston Villa.

GBL was largely built by deceased Belgian billionaire Albert Frere, who turned his family's nail and chain business into an empire stretching from energy to alcohol. He held interests in oil producer Total SA and distiller Pernod Ricard.

GBL named Gallienne sole CEO in December 2018, shortly after the death of his father-in-law, Albert Frere. GBL is backed by the Frere family and Canadian Desmarais clan.

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