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Shahar Graf & the Amsterdam Capital House Event

We had a chat with Shahar Graf, the Co-Founder of Capital House, which organizes the annual Amsterdam Capital House event, with a mission to create an ecosystem that actively supports the growth of founders. This year, the event will be taking place from March 24th-26th. As a part of the event’s program, Leapfunder will be hosting a Round Table Session on March 26th. Find out more about Capital House, the upcoming event, and what Shahar predicts for the Dutch startup ecosystem.
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1. Hi Shahar, thank you for agreeing to do another interview with Leapfunder. We already talked about your role in the Dutch startup scene in 2018, but we suppose a lot has changed since then. Could you give us an update?

Happy to! Yes, quite a bit has changed since 2018, not to mention the surprise of this past year. I would say that the most exciting update has been introducing Amsterdam Capital House, previously known as Amsterdam Capital Week, and launching the Capital House agency.

We hosted the first edition of Amsterdam Capital House in 2019, with the goal of bringing the startup ecosystem together under one roof. The House was built (literally) together with 40+ co-creators and we had more than 60 interactive sessions taking place over the course of 3 days. The idea was to encourage more collaboration within the ecosystem, and the sessions were co-organized together with startup hubs and organizations on a mission to support startups, scale-ups & entrepreneurs. 

With ACH, we decided it was time to redefine Capital. Whereas Amsterdam Capital Week focused on the investment landscape, we thought it was time to broaden the scope. Our aim is to create meaningful connections around Human, Social & Financial Capital. Human Capital – building your team & personal growth; Social Capital – growing your network & creating impact; and Financial Capital – funding & finances. This comes across in everything we do, to make sure founders are supported in all areas, and not solely focused on the funding (though that’s still important, and always requested).

The Capital House agency is our way of growing our impact & offering even more opportunities for growth during the year. Whether it’s creating support programs for entrepreneurs or connecting larger organizations to the startup ecosystem, Capital House is there to support purpose-driven businesses.

During #ACH21 we’ll be introducing some of our upcoming programs. Stay tuned!

2. You’re the Co-Founder of Capital House, which organizes the annual Amsterdam Capital House event, with a mission to create an ecosystem that actively supports the growth of founders. This year, the event will be taking place from March 24th-26th. Tell us about the plan and ideas for this year!

As you could probably imagine, we’ve decided to host this edition virtually. Though we love to create physical spaces and experiences for our community, this will make the next physical edition all the more special!

We had fun testing different tools, and hosting various online experiences this past year to really find the best way to create #ACH21 online. Not to mention, we have a double mission this year to boost the ecosystem & support businesses in overcoming the bumpy road and pushing ahead. 

In this edition, we will have 3 days of (virtual) meaningful connections, hosted by the Dutch startup ecosystem with 40+ communities co-creating the program. We don’t believe in sitting in front of the screen all day, so House members can select which topics are most relevant to them & sign up directly. If you scroll through the program, you’ll see that we’ve covered every topic once, with the goal of offering a session for all of the main founder-focused needs. Everything from scaling your team, to finding an international market, closing your next investment, learning about investments from scratch, legal advice, leadership, product testing… and the list goes on.

To wrap up each day, we’ll all meet in the Networking corner of the (virtual) house at 17:00 CET. Everyone is invited to join us there!

3. Leapfunder is hosting a Round Table Session in collaboration with Amsterdam Capital House on March 26th. What does this mean for Amsterdam Capital House? What are your expectations for the Round Table Session?

Leapfunder has been very active throughout the years, and we’re happy to have the Round Table Sessions continue in this edition. Involving the angel investor network is crucial, as they are one of the ‘harder to discover’ investors & can make a huge impact on startups who need support in the earlier stages. While VCs are becoming more and more popular and accessible, Leapfunder plays an important role in bringing the Angels to the table. 

On a personal note, one of the first investment workshops I joined was by Leapfunder, and the amount of to-the-point information and calculations that was shared was almost overwhelming. I see how much value is provided in the sessions, so I’m happy to be able to offer that to the founders who need it most. Looking forward to the session on March 26th!  

4. As someone who’s been present in the startup world for quite a while now, could you share the top 3 lessons for founders you learned over the years? 

There are always lessons to be learned, and as a facilitator in the ecosystem, there are definitely qualities that you see in certain founders that give them an edge & push them ahead.

One suggestion of mine would definitely be: Be on top of your game when talking to potential clients or investors – especially investors. Show them that you’re passionate and willing to put in the work and go the extra mile. For example, the choice between answering a potential investor’s email right away versus waiting to respond after your holiday can be detrimental. Follow-ups & new relationships are all about momentum, showing that you are determined and taking the time to do this properly. Have your documents ready, use the right tools (there are so many out there), and be willing to tailor it all at a moment’s notice for the person you’re talking to. Surprisingly enough, this isn’t always the case.

This leads me to the next tip – do your homework. At this point, there are so many resources available online. Take the time to understand what type of investment is right for you, research your options, and get to know who you should connect with. When fundraising, it’s not one size fits all. Many times, founders don’t know which funds are out there or how to approach them. You can start by joining some online sessions, reading articles by investors, or doing a deep dive on Crunchbase – there is a lot of information out there. The process will be much smoother if you understand how it works & know who you should be speaking to. Extra tip: prepare a list of relevant investors for future funding rounds. Having this on hand will be helpful when you start raising, and you can already start connecting with them beforehand.

My final recommendation is to be in it for the long haul and focus on building up relationships. Take the time to catch up with contacts you value & see how you can help others (creating value yourself), without expecting anything in return. From the investment perspective, I recommend this as well. Start the conversations early, share the occasional updates with your network, and pay attention to what’s going on with them. For the most part, investors have a great community amongst themselves and keep each other in the loop. You never know what opportunities are around the corner. 

P.S. That’s exactly why we created the House – to offer a more intimate way to connect within the ecosystem. It’s not about always selling or pitching, but about finding the right people & seeing which opportunities arise.

5. What do you think is the next big thing in the startup world? How is COVID-19 affecting the Dutch ecosystem and the work you do? What do you predict for the ecosystem in the Netherlands in the near future?

Personally, I believe the next step for startups and the entire ecosystem built around them (globally) needs to include Conscious Capital – which we will be highlighting within the agency. 

This pandemic has pushed many people to reconsider their priorities and where they focus their time and energy. I hope that we’ll do this on a macro level as well within the tech industry – re-evaluating the types of businesses we support & the technologies being created or promoted.

We’re currently even more enveloped in our virtual worlds, jumping from one Zoom to another while isolated in our homes (for the most part). We have technology all around us, and now is the time to think about: What’s next?  Can we use our tech for good? 

Other than shape-shifting our annual ACH into a virtual gathering, we’ve decided to dive even deeper into tech-for-good & conscious capital with Capital House in the coming years. 

As for the Dutch ecosystem, we see more organizations going in this direction as well, and we hope to spark collaborations to exponentially increase our impact. There are many great programs and support systems out there, and by co-creating, we can learn from each other rather than trying to do it all ourselves. This also includes international collaboration, which is even more accessible now in this time of remote work. 

To round off with a prediction – I expect to see more Dutch unicorns popping up! The ecosystem has shifted in recent years to focus on later-stage startups, and we have some nice success stories to learn from (most recently, Takeaway raising €1.1bn!). I’ve come across quite a few impressive startups this past year (from mobility solutions to quantum computing), and I hope to see them make the scaling leap in the next few years.

Thank you very much for the chat, Shahar. We wish you a successful Amsterdam Capital House event and the best of luck in your future endeavours!

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