We had a chat with Dieuwke Hoogland & Duke Urbanik, the co-founders of the Venture Generator, where they design startups for corporates by finding innovative, promising ideas within the corporates. Moreover, they’re co-founders of Masters Of Scale, where they offer a customised approach to help businesses scale, while Dieuwke also focuses on supporting women through her Female Ventures network. Find out how Dieuwke & Duke started working together and how they’re shaping the startup ecosystem in the Netherlands.
1. Hi Dieuwke & Duke, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us how you entered the startup world and why you started working together?
Duke was working at his first startup, a software company specialising in laboratory automation which he started during his studies in Delft. Back then in the early nineties, as the company was scaling internationally, Duke asked me to join him at exhibitions and tradeshows abroad. Spending time together in a campervan felt like holidays apart from the hurting feet after a long day at the tradeshow floor. This was the first tiny seed of our cooperation as co-founders while enjoying the fact that we are complementary in our work.
2. You’re co-founders of the Venture Generator, where you design startups for corporates by finding innovative, promising ideas within the corporates. Tell us more about your mission and the idea that got it all started!
After selling the first company, we entered the startup world by coaching young founders with innovative ideas, sometimes through direct connections and more and more via incubators and accelerators, who were evolving in a period when the Netherlands started to build a supportive ecosystem for startup entrepreneurs.
In this ecosystem, we also saw corporates entering and hunting for connections and support in their attempts to innovate in an agile way. We saw corporate venturing and corporate incubators in practice and noticed these attempts showed high cost and limited success.
That brought a group of 4 individuals together to set up the Venture Generator. The mission of the co-founders is bringing a corporate’s innovative idea to life in a cost-efficient lean way, in an independent startup. It brings the best of the two worlds together; market entry and capital from the corporate side and entrepreneurship, innovation, speed and agility from the startup side. Here’s a nice video explainer.
3. How is the Venture Generator shaping the startup ecosystem in the Netherlands? Do you have any exits so far?
After four years of running the Venture Generator and having built several new initiatives, we have seen lots of ‘copies’ of the basic idea offering similar solutions. We consider this very favourable for innovation in general. As the Venture Generator, we are still unique in our way of being compensated. As we create a new entity, we will be receiving equity in the newly designed startup, which means we have a ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to remuneration. Not every alternative of the Venture Generator will offer remuneration in equity and may thus require a certain (upfront) cash compensation instead.
So far, we see different outcomes of our work ranging from:
- the corporate taking full control and acquiring all shares of the new startup (example Peeeks/Eneco) to:
- the corporate initially seed-funding the new startup and one of the largest VC funds in Europe (GFC), funding growth in the next substantial round. This proved that the corporate together with the Venture Generator built a promising startup (example Dutch Analytics/BAM Infra Rail/Global Founders Capital) *investors that are interested in purchasing a part of Dutch Analytics can contact firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com directly
On a side note: the model of the Venture Generator is to sell their stake in the startups after their first funding round is secured, and thus our equity stake in Dutch Analytics is now on the market for qualified investors to participate in at various ticket sizes starting at €100K. With the help of their investor, who has successfully scaled HelloFresh and Zalando, the company is developing an AI platform for easy deployment of operational AI-Model applications: a sort of WordPress for AI.
Currently, there are again very promising new initiatives to purpose-build startups for innovative ideas; however, at the moment, COVID-19 is holding corporates back from actively investing in ‘entrepreneurial innovation’. However, we do consider it rewarding for the Venture Generator that corporates do come back to us to build their next startup to be prepared for ‘better times’.
4. You’re also co-founders of Masters Of Scale, where you offer a customised approach to help businesses scale. Tell us more about your mission!
Based on our experience at the Venture Generator, we saw that it is the process of setting up a startup from scratch, which takes a considerable amount of time. You can imagine circumstances where an innovative idea or service may be launched – or even become a market leader – much faster than the speed which you can accomplish with a startup company in its very early phase.
These were reasons for us to brainstorm together during our weekly ideation coffee and find out how to eliminate certain limitations we experienced earlier on, such as limited experience in teams, still having to find a product-market fit and more. When building Masters of Scale we wanted to fully focus on companies that already show certain achievements and key factors that prove their ability to scale. It avoids the time burden of the initial set up and pivoting.
Here is where our experienced Masters come in, working in teams of 2 to support the founder teams. That way, founders can speed up and choose the competences they want to add to their team to solve their challenges and head to the next funding round. And yes, as founders you can do it all by yourself, but you can also choose to add ‘some grey hairs’ and add experience and extensive networks while attempting to scale faster, bigger and better.
Masters of Scale brings together more than twenty impressive international networks of Masters, together forming a welcoming and passionate community. Masters are experts and serial entrepreneurs who guide companies to the next phase and are willing to open up their networks.
5. Dieuwke, you’re also leading a network for ambitious females, called Female Ventures. You offer them a safe and inspiring environment to flourish, build a network and gain opportunities to venture. What inspired you to start focusing on female entrepreneurship and female professionals? What are you aiming to achieve?
Recent data showed again that in the Netherlands, only 1% of the Dutch VC investments flows to female-led companies. And only 13% to diverse teams. This shows me there’s still some work to do on the topic of diversity and inclusion.
At Female Ventures, we aim to support women, both entrepreneurs and professionals in their growth and build awareness to carefully plan their career to become the leaders that will be able to fill in the gap. At Female Ventures, we focus on empowering women who can cover the growing demand of qualified females.
As Female Ventures, we have an international and cross-generation community of 550 members. All talented women with a majority between 25 and 35 years. We build awareness for planning, pausing and adapting our careers carefully. Female Ventures inspires women to design a business card for the future moment when they are 50 or 60+. What should be stated on that card: Where do I want to be heading? How can I measure my steps, who can I talk to, who will inspire and mentor me, how do I build my network?
Currently, our non-profit organises activities in 5 City Chapters, run by volunteers who all feel a deep and warm inspiration to support not only our community but diversity and inclusion in general.
6. What do you see as the next big thing in the Dutch startup world and what do you predict for the ecosystem?
Currently, we see the whole startup ecosystem shifting attention to scaleup companies. Building startups is hard, especially when they deal with hardware and/or consumers, and as a consequence, many startups don’t make it through the initial period – that’s why they call it ‘the valley of death’. Even after their initial seed-funding, 70% won’t make it to their next funding round. Unfortunately, everybody is starting to realise that scaleup companies do require a different approach and a lot of first-hand experience and pinpoint knowledge.
Also, international investors are increasingly looking at opportunities in our region, with valuations of companies they consider ‘cheap’. The government is counter-weighing this with large capital funds which will co-invest. Still, it will be interesting to see if this will prevent companies to ‘follow the opportunity’ and move their operations abroad.
Thank you very much for sharing your story. We wish you both the best of luck in your future endeavours.
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