Job Nijs (Braventure), Arjan Goudsblom (Techleap), René Brama (Invest.NL), Madelon Strijbos (Robert Walters)
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Team dynamics are crucial when building your start-up. That’s why it’s so important to create a group of people that suits your project’s needs the best. Of course, expertise is vital, but don’t forget things like diversity, leadership, chemistry, and the ability to ask for support. René Brama (Invest.NL), Arjan Goudsblom (Techleap), and Madelon Strijbos (Robert Walters) have had so many founders, potential co-founders, and team members at their desks that their advice is a precious resource for the start-up ecosystem. 

LUMO Labs asked the three experts to share their views on a sideline of the Draper Pitch Prize Competition finals, Thursday afternoon at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven.

Groningen sets the tone in the Draper Pitch Prize Competition finals

Not only the winners but also the two runners-up of the Draper Pitch Prize Competition finals were founded in Groningen. Out of the 6 finalists that pitched their solutions in Eindhoven on Thursday, the jury chose Sencilia as the winner. Presented by Dr. Amar M. Kamat, Sencilia builds nature-inspired sensing solutions using innovative fabrication methods to solve critical problems in industries such as healthcare, underwater robotics, microfluidics, water and energy (oil and gas, hydrogen). Kamat won a  ticket to the five-week Draper University Hero Training program in San Mateo, California. 
The same prize was awarded to the two runners-up in the contest: Aletta Solutions and Elementa. Aletta offers a chatbot for patients to support their medication adherence. This results in better clinical trials. Elementa wants to be the ‘siri for labs’, helping researchers document the process of their work.
All three winners have ties to Groningen University and the UMCG Medical Center.

The jury consisted of:
Irina Kulizhnikova, The Gate
Frank Claassen, Newion
Khadija Ghazi, Draper University
Jordy Schaufeli, OostNL
Vincent Kamphorst, Innovation Industries
Maud Zaal, Microsoft
Rene Brama, Invest-nl

It’s all about the second phase of your start-up, René Brama says. “It’s when you realize that you may have this brilliant idea, but without someone to sell it, without an audience that’s interested in it, it’s still nothing. So you have to find a salesperson to work next to you.” And you’d better choose this person – and all the others in your team – wisely, Arjan Goudsblom adds. “You have got to be aware that you will have to work together for many years. The average journey of a deep tech founder is 10 to 15 years before an exit. So don’t rush into finding new team members. You need to have chemistry, be on the same page, and have the same ambition. I often see that a choice is made based on a paper resume. That’s a recipe for disappointment.”

The three agree that enthusiasm and passion among the founding team members are crucial. A potential investor will immediately recognize a lack of passion, so it’s a necessity if you want to survive as a company. “But beware, passion can be killed”, Madelon Strijbos warns. “You have to be mindful of nurturing and harnessing that passion. Show your drive to your people, be in the office with them, and ensure they are heard by you. You lose good people – and the bad ones will stay – if you’re not there to take care of it.”

Involve them

There’s something else every founder needs to take care of: think as a proper business. Brama: “Spend enough energy with your investors. Share your successes and failures with them, and involve them in your business. Good or bad, ensure they will never be surprised by your financials.” Also, when looking for new investors, be aware that this will cost time and effort. “Keep talking to them”, adds Strijbos. “Especially now, when investing in deep tech start-ups has become less evident than before.”

By the way, Goudsblom says, “finding the right co-founder can sometimes also be a road to new money. Because of their network, or simply because they can invest themselves.” Strijbos agrees: “You need a business-driven person as a co-founder if you want to properly spin out of the university setting. Those people can give you money and extra runway. A co-founder with cash can really help.”

Finally, there’s the need to ask for support. Brama: “Build a support force around your start-up; use your seasoned advisors.” And although it’s not “rocket science or heart surgery”, hiring people is still more than a hobby, Strijbos says. “Writing job profiles, answering emails from applicants, talking to people. That’s something we can do for a start-up. It all starts with asking for support.” With a smile: “I promise all of you: a phone call to us won’t cost you anything.”

Aletta CEO Fennie van der Graaf pitching for the Draper Prize. © IO