Vincent Ruis, Michel Ziekman, John-Paul van Heel, Stijn Mandigers © Rabobank
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Anyone who thinks that banking is just a matter of putting the numbers together properly so that a positive sum remains at the bottom of the line for the bank will be in for a surprise when talking to Rabobank’s startup and scale-up team. No spreadsheets under their arm, no inaccessible offices, no conversations full of jargon. Rather, in everything they do, Vincent Ruis, Stijn Mandigers, Michel Ziekman, and John-Paul van Heel are part of the same ecosystem they focus on from a business perspective.

Why is this important?

It is sometimes hard to survive as a start-up. The expertise of specialists around issues such as housing, financing, patents or operations can then help. Rabobank’s start-up and scale-up team plays an important role in this.”

And so they can be found at all those events, workshops, lectures, and get-togethers that startups in the Brainport region themselves find so important. The monthly walk-in meetings at The Gate, the monthly Demos Pitches & Drinks, events from Automotive Campus to the BIC, and of course, all the Gerard & Anton Community meetings, no meeting goes by without seeing one of Rabobank’s start-up and scale-up bankers there. In addition, the team has a workplace at the High Tech Campus, where they speak to many (potential) clients and organize various events.

© Rabobank
Michel Ziekman © Rabobank

“And not because we expect to close a deal there right away,” Michel Ziekman says immediately. “For us, it’s about understanding where the movement is. Who has the ideas that could possibly lead to success ten years from now? You only find that out if you are actually part of the circuits where those ideas are discussed and tested. It always starts with listening.”

But good listening is also a skill. “Of course, when the founder gives his or her pitch at such an event, everyone in the audience hears the same story,” adds John-Paul van Heel. “But you don’t really understand it until you’ve also heard the pitches that preceded it. And those of the competitors. Precisely because of that, we can respond to needs and challenges that these startups and scale-ups encounter on their path like this.”

Because fair is fair, at the bottom line, it’s still about the financial services Rabobank offers. Vincent Ruis: “Successfully founding a start-up and scaling it up to a mature company are challenging jobs. We and our team are committed to helping these entrepreneurs develop more successfully and faster. With our financial products and services, our international network, and our knowledge, we help them achieve their ambitions. For example, bank financing, an introduction to investors or putting them in touch with launching customers in their market.”


Vincent Ruis © Rabobank
Vincent Ruis © Rabobank

Part of the success of the Rabobank start-up and scale-up team lies in its focus. Without being distracted by other commitments, they can throw themselves fully into their mission. Because the bankers work daily with fast-growing, innovative companies and know the language of investors and financiers, they can respond to their needs and challenges. That does mean you have to accept that a lot of time goes into sowing to reap eventually. “And you have to be home in different markets,” says John-Paul van Heel. “The energy and food transition, quantum, photonics, and MedTech are typical areas where startups are active. Of course, we have colleagues within Rabobank who know even more about that than we do, and we can always call on them. But in the first instance, it comes down to us: because we know the founder’s experience, we can link it to our own expertise. And so we may help companies step by step in their growth. It often starts with opening an account and can continue up to and including an IPO. Or an exit of course, because they are still start-ups.”

The innovation loan is often the first serious step at the beginning of that journey. Ziekman: “Of the eighty we have issued in recent years, only a few have not ended well. Don’t underestimate what that can mean for a beginning company. We have plenty of examples of that by now. But the great thing is that we can put together a different, perfectly fitting package for each start-up. For one, that is indeed a loan, for another a useful contact with an investor and another a pension plan for the employees. By the way, it is often a combination of these elements. By staying in conversation, we find out. And sometimes that also leads to the conclusion that we can’t do anything for each other – which is also completely fine.” In some cases, it also touches on the strategic choices of a start-up. Ruis: “But that does have its limits. We do not sit in the chair of the CEO or CFO; we are mainly a sparring partner. With regular strategic conversations, we can help them move forward.”


John-Paul van Heel © Rabobank
John-Paul van Heel © Rabobank

Stijn Mandigers is the youngest team member. In February, he moved from BDO, where he focused on mergers and acquisitions, to Rabobank, but he already feels like a fish out of water. “I can do here where my strengths lie: bringing parties together that could benefit from each other. Rabobank believes in cooperation and the power of ecosystems, and that suits me fine. Thanks to our regional and national partners, we can provide startups and scale-ups with valuable insights and knowledge.”

Rabobank’s approach also has everything to do with the belief that startups are essential in a world characterized by continuous change, Mandigers says. “They are the innovators of the economy through their power of innovation. They help society solve social challenges. Moreover, they are a growth engine for the economy and employment in the Netherlands. It, therefore, fits perfectly with Rabobank’s ambition to support these innovative – and sometimes disruptive – fast-growing companies in a wide range of sectors and technologies. From our tradition as a cooperative and socially engaged bank, we do this by building lasting relationships and being partners in their growth and success.”

Hundreds of startups and scale-ups

Stijn Mandigers © Rabobank
Stijn Mandigers © Rabobank

The four bankers’ client base now spans several hundred startups and scale-ups. In doing so, they have built up a great deal of expertise over the years that colleagues elsewhere in the country can also draw on. Ruis: “Nationwide, about fifteen colleagues are doing similar work to ours, concentrated in cities where there is traditionally a lot of innovation, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Utrecht and the cities with a technical university. Because we have been at it much longer than the rest, we can often help them with our experience. However, we have to remember that each region has its own peculiarities. Amsterdam, for example, still has many more start-ups than we do in Eindhoven, but these are mostly software companies, while we are hardware-oriented here. That requires a substantially different approach.”

The work of startup and scale-up specialists is not suited for every banker, Ziekman concludes. “You have to have some fun with companies that are quite exotic and not yet profitable. We enjoy it, but it’s good that other colleagues have specializations of their own.”

Do you think the Rabobank Startup and Scale-up Team can do something for you too? Contact Michel Ziekman at [email protected]. Or visit one of our walk-in consultations: on the first Monday of the month at The Gate, every Wednesday afternoon at the High Tech Campus, or on April 25 at Startup Meierijstad.


This story is the result of a collaboration between Rabobank and our editorial team. Innovation Origins is an independent journalism platform that carefully chooses its partners and only cooperates with companies and institutions that share our mission: spreading the story of innovation. This way we can offer our readers valuable stories that are created according to journalistic guidelines. Want to know more about how Innovation Origins works with other companies? Click here