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Mainport Innovation Fund, An Early Stage Capital Fund from the Netherlands

This interview was held by Burak Buyukdemir and the article is written by Jeremiah Uke, a contributor author at Startup Turkey

This is part of a series of interviews with top venture funds in Europe by Startup Turkey. Thijs Gitmans joined NBI Investors in 2015 as Fund Manager of Mainport Innovation Fund II (‘MIF II’). MIF II is a seed/early stage VC founded by Schiphol, KLM, TU Delft, NS and Port of Amsterdam. Prior to Mainport, Thijs was Fund Manager of Peak Capital II, which has invested in NL startups such as Catawiki, Flinders and Peecho. Thijs’ first startup experience came from his years at Brand New Day, where he was part of the launch of this fintech startup, by the founders of Binck Bank. He holds an economics degree from Groningen University.

An Interview with Thijs Gitmans

Thijs is the fund manager for the second Mainport Innovation Fund, which is an early stage venture capital fund from the Netherlands. The fund focuses on the Logistics, Transportation and Aviation industries predominantly. They invest in the Netherlands and other (EU) countries.

The fund is a special one because of their focus which is very different from the normal convention. They also have indigenous limited partners (‘LPs’) from the industries they invest in. These limited partners include KLM, Schiphol airport, NS Dutch Railways, the Port of Amsterdam and the Technical University of Delft. They act as investors but are also involved in the daily operations of the fund, helping to source startups, validate good opportunities, and also helping the companies the fund has invested in.

Thijs himself has a background in finance and law, he worked in a law firm for 7 years and did a lot of structuring of investment funds. After which he moved to a boutique bank for a few years, he then met a startup team who set up a fintech company trying to increase transparency in some investment and savings structures. Thijs spent 4-5 years with the startup after which he joined a well-known Dutch venture capital fund. In 2015, Thijs thn joined the NBI Investment team as the fund manager of Mainport Investment fund.

The idea behind the fund is first to make return on the investments made, but it is also important for the limited partners to help accelerate innovation in the businesses. It is hard to innovate in traditional industries like Aviation, Logistics and Transportation. The limited partners want to support the growth of these businesses by giving money and expertise through the fund, without getting too involved in corporate politics.

The fund also invests in other countries, there is currently a deal about to be closed in Belgium. It is important to mention that when the fund does investments, the team wants to be very actively involved in the companies invested in. The team always likes to spend time and talk to them, to see where they can help. The fund focuses on the Netherlands primarily but to also look at companies outside the Netherlands. The team also wants to be able to cooperate with the companies effectively so if they are too far away, it does not make a lot of sense.

The ticket size for the first round of the fund is on average between 200,000 – 1,000,000 Euros. The maximum amount is 3 million Euros.

The fund invests in early-stage startups, but also do pre-revenue and seed funding in specific situations. Generally, the fund prefers to see some revenue in a startup before investing but invests earlier than most Dutch venture capitalists.

When it comes to the industries which the fund focuses on, Thijs explains that the fund looks out for Transportation, Logistics, Supply Chain, Aviation and a little bit of Mobility. The fund primarily focuses on B2B (business to business) modelled companies.

Normally, the process of a startup getting the Mainport Innovation Fund takes 3-6 months. The most important startups come from the fund’s network or through the limited partners. Thijs communicates that he would recommend startups who approach the fund directly to find a member of the fund’s network, to introduce the startup to the team.

It is best when startups find the fund before they look for funding, the team likes to build a relationship with the startup over a period of time before giving funds.

It is important for the team to be strong, it is also important for the team to have complimentary members. They need to have a tech guy, a sales guy, and also someone to organize the team.

The team talks to as many people in the market, including to their limited partners who understand what these startups go through. Apart from doing their own research the team talks to potential customers as well.

Thijs confirmed that he has a few names of rejected startups who went on to succeed. Fortunately, the current fund does not have so much of them. He added that team cannot always see everything, or always make the right assessment, but definitely has the drive and ambition to do so.

Looking at the bright side of their portfolio, the first investment in the second fund is ViriCiti, a startup that monitors electric buses and other vehicles. The startup is led by a very strong complimentary team. The team gradually grows with the market on a daily basis. Currently, the team is a world leader in the bus monitoring market.

Startups need to make sure that they make the right amount of money at the right time, starting from small and then going for bigger rounds. It is also important to find an investor you would want to work with and trust.

18 March 2019

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