Saluqi after a period of intensive guidance back on its own feet

As a spark plug that gives just enough sparks to run the machine: Sparkplug Ventures helps startuptalent with knowledge, skills, network and… with money. That this concept works, is demonstrated by the most recent success of the accelerator led by Evert Fila and Reinier van Doorne. Saluqi, which develops innovative electric drives, was almost dying two years ago when it came under the care of Sparkplug. As a result of this guidance, the company was recently able to buy back its own shares with the help of a new investor.

No, they can’t quite live from it yet, but this type of transaction (the acquisition amount has not been disclosed) does bring that moment closer. Fila and Van Doorne now have the support of Mike Pennings (legal) and Luk Vanderhallen (financial), so that they can further professionalize their help to the startups. Fila: “We started Sparkplug because we saw that in the very early stages of a startup there was no help whatsoever to get these companies to move forward. Of course, at that stage it is still difficult to assess whether the idea will be successful, but we can use our experience for that very purpose.”

“We don’t want cold money, we want entrepreneurship”

Evert Fila
Evert Fila

Fila himself has been supporting entrepreneurs for “as long as I can remember”. The specific support for startups became real when he tried to set up an Eindhoven branch of Rockstart. The plan eventually collapsed, after which he and Van Doorne could direct their energy to their own accelerator. At Sparkplug, Fila’s entrepreneurial experience works in two directions: both in supporting the start-up companies and in enthusing the network. Fila: “I am 56 now, all my friends are entrepreneurs, they are still very active in their work, just like me. They themselves were once a start-up company and they all want to retain that energy, the feeling that comes with entrepreneurship. We can bind people like that to us because Sparkplug can offer them just that. And for us that is the best thing: we do not want cold money, we want entrepreneurship.”

The Sparkplug team has just completed preparations for setting up Sparkplug Capital. The aim is to attract around twenty entrepreneurs for 25,000 euros each. “All in all, that should be able to yield around half a million. Money that allows us to give promising startups just the push they need for their first steps to success.”

In exchange for the aid, Sparkplug acquires a percentage of the shares in the startup; the earnings model is therefore in the exit. Together with the companies involved, additional investors will be sought from the outset and only when 150,000 euros have been raised, costs will be charged.

Next to Saluqi, which will now be said goodbye to, startups like Skotty and Nibblr are in Sparkplug’s portfolio. Fila: “Skotty is very interesting, a company for which there is certainly a market. They are involved in completely secure file transfer, but at first, they had a system that was rather unworkable. We were able to help them with that and now, based on the same principles, they have a system that works. Partly because of this, they have also managed to raise investment money. That team is now about ready for the next step.”

But it’s not just high tech and software that sets Sparkplug’s agenda. Nibblr, for example, also a startup that came into the package early on, focuses on getting students, expats and young professionals together at one dinner table – and while doing so is also combating food waste and loneliness. “Also for such a startup, we managed to raise more than 100,000 euros of development money.”

“A very bad startup with a good entrepreneur can always get somewhere, but the other way around this will never work out.”

Spotting new startups is done in the same way as selecting investors: first informally, but later very structured. “We literally ran into Skotty in a coffee bar, for example. At such a moment you’ll soon notice if it clicks. But then, of course, we will look very carefully at whether we need to go further. Simply put: every startup must meet our ten commandments. This means, for example, that trademark law and intellectual property must be regulated, that there is a market to be addressed for it and – very importantly – that the team is good. Fila: “A very bad startup with a good entrepreneur can always get somewhere, but the other way around this will never work out.

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Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.