75 million for start-ups Brightlands Venture Partnersfebruary 21, 2019
Starting entrepreneurs at the four Limburg Brightlands campuses can call on Brightlands Venture Partners for financing. This independent and self-supporting organization manages three funds with a total capital of some 75 million Euros. The portfolios may be generously filled, but the “hunger” for their contents is far from being satisfied. “We are actually just getting started,” according to director Casper Bruens (picture).
The Brightlands campuses in Geleen and Maastricht are doing well. The previously formulated goals to attract international knowledge workers and start-up companies have been achieved, and then some. Time to stop and reflect, perhaps? Casper Bruens raises his eyebrows at this. “That’s exactly what we shouldn’t do,” says the former DSM employee who, together with Marcel Kloosterman, makes up the board of Brightlands Venture Partners.
“You could say that we have just cleared the first hurdle. We have succeeded in helping various start-ups grow to become full-fledged companies, businesses that can strike out on their own or which have since been acquired by large international organizations. These are the examples that help us prove the campuses’ function as an ecosystem.”
Best practices make these acquisitions easier, including abroad. “Yes. This then helps us attract new start-ups because they know opportunities are available here. We have the research institutes here, the educational institutions, the laboratories and pilot plants, the knowledge workers and of course all the necessary facilities. Sure, it all definitely sounds great, but on a European scale, Brightlands is still a fairly small player. We also have the ambition to make a difference on a global scale. When you look at it this way, we have really only just begun.”
“The spearhead was and still is attracting start-ups and stimulating spin-offs,” Casper Bruens explains. “This requires a party that can provide venture capital. Banks are simply reluctant when it comes to providing risky loans and purely financial investors often want to see results too quickly. At the campuses in Geleen and Maastricht, start-ups have to be given the chance to develop, even if it takes a bit longer to generate a profit.”
In 2004, Limburg Ventures was first set up with 15 million in the coffers. Chemelot Ventures was next with 40 million Euros in hand, followed last year by Brightlands Agrifood Fund that focuses primarily on the new Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo. The three entities decided to continue under a single name at the beginning of this year: Brightlands Venture Partners.
“In organizational terms we are one team,” Casper Bruens continues, “and as far as the outside world is concerned, one name prevents confusion. Three funds and investment managers with various expertise are behind this title. Every financing application is evaluated very critically, independent of Brightlands itself. It’s definitely not like there’s a bag of money just waiting here for everyone who needs it. An idea has to be substantiated with at least a proof-of-concept and a business plan. After receiving a positive assessment, our people go in search of co-financing options, such as from LIOF (Limburg Development and Investment Company) or other venture capital funds, and if possible, supplemented by loans from the Rabobank, RVO or other parties. Our funds invest in shares and will never just grant a loan. The risk is too high; something not everyone knows is that Brightlands Venture Partners also has to earn a return of around ten percent. This is quite high, particularly when you realize that not every start-up is a success. Up to now, around three-quarters of them have been successful. Some projects just don’t make it, and we lose the investment. Ultimately, the bottom line is that we want to see a return on our investments. Only then can we start a new fund that enables us to help finance other start-ups. As I said, we’ve only just begun. We expect to attract dozens of companies over the coming years which have a great need for capital.”
Limburg Ventures and Chemelot Ventures have quite an impressive track record to show for the last fifteen years. Casper Bruens cites companies such as Pharmacell, Isobionics, Polyscope, Enzypep, Basic Pharma, Black Bear Carbon, Ioniqa and QC Polymers as examples of successful start-ups. “We have over 30 different participating interests right now. All of these are companies that are doing pioneering work with new materials, sustainable solutions and medical innovations. A few of them have since been acquired by large organizations. This is great; it allows them to continue to grow. It is important for the campuses that this growth occurs in Limburg. This brings in jobs and attracts high-quality research and innovations. We have now reached a critical mass which enables us to attract new activities and better equips us to handle international competition. Do we have the necessary strength for this? I believe we do. We are seeing increasing interest among other investors and our own rates of return are good. We are ready for them, and for the start-ups at the new campuses in Venlo and Heerlen.”