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Benelux Venture Forum: capital seeks start-ups

november 24, 2018

Over 60 investment funds and holding companies based primarily in Europe attended the two-day Benelux Venture Forum at the Brightlands Campuses in Geleen and Heerlen in mid-November. In their quest to find interesting start-ups and investment opportunities, they listened to a total of over 40 pitches. “It was a successful event.”

It goes without saying that deals were made and business was done during the Benelux Venture Forum, the event organized by Tech Tour which brings together investors, holding companies and businesses on a European-wide basis. The concrete results will only become visible later, however. “Initially, this just involves the pitches from entrepreneurs who are looking for capital,” according to William Stevens, director of Tech Tour. “The capital is there, but investors don’t make these decisions overnight. They are looking for true gems, companies with possibilities and a great deal of growth potential. If a pitch is convincing, follow-up meetings are scheduled. And even then, there is still a whole procedure to complete before any contracts get signed. We don’t really get a clear idea about the specifics until later on. We bring the parties together; that’s our most important task.”

Informal

Venture forums are events that have proved their value when it comes to matching supply and demand for capital, particularly in larger cities such as London, Paris and Frankfurt. However, getting major European but also American parties to come to the relatively unknown region of Limburg is not that easy, William Stevens says. “This is why I was so pleasantly surprised by the turn-out.

Sixty serious parties, and they’re not just coming here on a whim. This means that they see potential in this area. The atmosphere is also good; a bit informal, but there are always opportunities to have one-on-one conversations in the corridors. Time for a conversation also plays a key role.”

The turn-out was high, both at Brightlands Chemelot Campus in Geleen as well as the Smart Services Campus in Heerlen a day later. A total of 43 companies delivered their pitches to a panel of investors active in four industry categories: smart services, materials, nutrition and health care. These are companies with primarily European roots, and include electronics developers active in health care coming up with unique games for children and new (bio-)materials. There are also entrepreneurs with sustainable answers to dilemmas in the energy transition and food production sectors. These parties are also sole entrepreneurs with a brilliant idea and companies that are already ready for the next phase in production, new product development or international expansion.

LIOF

Twelve of them will be going home with a special recommendation from the investor panels: Deliverect, Digiteal, Exact Imaging, Hemav, Muuselabs, Quicargo, Skeeled, Skytree, VIPUN Medical and three companies with their roots in Brightlands: Hy2Care (Twente), Grassa! (Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo) and Vertoro (Brightlands Chemelot Campus, Sittard-Geleen).

These organizations are assured of follow-up meetings at LIOF, the Limburg investment bank which focuses on financial support for start-ups, among other things. “LIOF helps start-ups and re-entrants with venture capital,” director Tys van Elk explains, “but we usually have to pass on this for amounts above five million. It was great to see that there were parties at this event who have the means to support entrepreneurs interested in building a pilot plant, a production facility or international expansion. The main thing is being able to facilitate companies with capital during every phase of their business. This also increases the chances that they will remain in the region and contribute to boosting employment. The capital is there, certainly as long as interest rates remain low and investors are looking for returns. It is not however the case that the money flows that easily. A great deal of care goes into making decisions. The people giving their pitches have to have a well-substantiated story.”

Region

Léon Klinkers, director of Brightlands Innovation Factory, is happy that he was able to bring the event to Limburg for the second year in a row. This time, there were considerably more participants in attendance. “We are gaining more and more notoriety as an innovative region when it comes to biomaterials, agrofood, sustainability, fine chemicals industry and data management,” he explains, “and a reputation as a good base of operations for both established and new companies active in the medical sector. There was a lot of interest in MEDLIM for example, a joint project between Medtronic, Brightlands and LIOF. With big names like this, you automatically trigger interest. We have now made it clear to a broad, international group of investors that a variety of prominent medical companies have chosen this region as a base of operations for activities in Europe and the Middle East. We have the facilities, good infrastructure and knowledge here.”

Cocktail

So, it’s a cocktail that really hits the spot with investors and holding companies? Tys van Elk nods in agreement. “This is why foreign companies also came to give pitches this time; they might want to set up an office here. It works both ways. We recruit new companies and offer the opportunity to the start-ups based here and re-entrants to meet investors.”

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