The investment fund G-Force Capital was set up last year to help young companies in it get started. The fund has now made seven investments in promising Groningen it-startups. But the bar is high. Nine out of 10 applications are rejected.
Shortly after the NOMMER 's conversation with Marco de Jong about G-Force Capital, a meeting with an entrepreneur is scheduled. Fund manager De Jong again looks forward to it. 'I always enjoy it tremendously,' he says. 'You are always dealing with expectant, often young, creative and creative people at the beginning of their careers. People who still believe in the social engineering of everything.'
Whether the idea of such a young, ambitious IT entrepreneur will really make it is, of course, never certain beforehand. But there is always the possibility that the plan could be a Catawiki or Belsimpel in the making. According to De Jong, the it sector in Groningen has enough potential to produce more high-flyers like that.
'We definitely don't engage with everyone,' he says. The hard criteria must be met anyway: the company must be based in Groningen and digital technology must be at the heart of the business; a webshop, an app or a website that is very important in the business process.
It helps when a start has been made on development, that there is a minimum viable product. But that's not a requirement, De Jong says. Because G-Force was created to help startups at a very early stage, a well-thought-out plan and a clear vision can also be enough to talk further.
"We first assess the case for the strength of the team and the business plan," De Jong explains. It happens quite often that a plan rattles and is little more than an idea, De Jong knows. "Then we say, 'go redo your homework.' That's how nine out of 10 applications run aground.
Of course, that is often an unpleasant message?
'It can be painful. But we are honest about it when we find someone unsuitable as an entrepreneur. No one gets sawed off by the socks. We are always constructive toward the startup. We put a lot of time into evaluating with the entrepreneur, and when a rejection comes up, we tell them clearly what we like and don't like. That also has a purifying effect, it motivates and sharpens the mind.' The promising initiatives are further screened for their earnings model and ideas about where G-Force's money will be spent. De Jong: "The most important thing is whether good thought has been given to the commercialization of the idea.
For G-Force, how important is the man or woman behind the plans?
'We think it is important for the entrepreneur to know where his strengths lie. But above all, he must also know his weaknesses. He must be able to collect. Moreover, I want to feel that someone is really going for it and dares to take risks, but again is not an adventurer.'
What kind of connection are you looking for with the entrepreneur?
'We want mutual trust. You want someone to whom you entrust investment money to do the right thing with it. The renowned investor Neal Dempsey who was in Groningen earlier this year said about it: we can all read a business plan, but more important is that you understand who the entrepreneur really is. Belly rubbing will tell you, Dempsey believes, the gut feeling.'
To what extent do you want to maintain influence over the policies of the companies G-Force invests in?
'I don't want to steer. That's not good for the entrepreneur. But I do like to be involved in important strategic decisions. With a startup, that involves questions like: do I buy lease cars? Do I hire a new employee? As far as I am concerned, the initiative for a conversation about this should preferably come from the entrepreneur. I prefer not to call myself. 'That is also a personal style, other investors coach more intensively. I don't do that because I think you can eliminate a lot of pitfalls, but I don't think entrepreneurs should be treated like cash plants. In the Netherlands we still tend to arrange everything for them: incubators, accelerators, housing. They are sometimes overly pampered.
What's the problem with a little extra help?
'It is not wrong to keep entrepreneurs from making mistakes, but you should not make it too easy and want to regulate too much. Besides: which entrepreneur wants that. Catawiki and BelSimpel have also learned the hard way. That is precisely what made them great.'
What are you looking for with G-Force? Is the fund looking for financial or social returns?
'We invest with companies with a digital heart that make the world a little better. Of course, that has to yield returns for G-Force, the entrepreneur and society. 'It's great to see that in a number of our investments, financial and social returns go hand in hand. Like at Dropper, which does sustainable city distribution, and Goodr, which funnels money to good causes via adblockers. If you do well financially, you can also achieve something socially.'
What is G-Force?
G-Force is an initiative of Investeringsfonds Groningen (IFG). The fund capital of €2.5 million comes almost entirely from IFG and partly from informal investors, including fund manager De Jong. The fund aims to make funding for it-startups more accessible. Promising it-startups can develop ideas with a capital injection from G-Force Capital. These can then be taken to market. In a relatively short time, the fund has built a portfolio of now seven promising companies. The fund helps the companies with funding of up to one ton, either as equity or as a convertible loan. The startup itself is asked to co-invest. G-Force's portfolio: Coachjezelf (self-help app), Dropper (sustainable city distribution), TCKL (business relationship app), MOOF2 (wants to bring education and the job market closer together) SHARKMARK (serious gaming), BUKU (streaming service for books) and Goodr.
Marco de Jong: Investor and entrepreneur
As co-owner of the Groningen Internet company theFactor.e, De Jong has earned his spurs as an entrepreneur. As a shareholder, he is still involved in that company but has handed over the day-to-day management. His entrepreneurial past gives him extra credibility toward young startups, he says. 'Also, the fact that I am a venture capitalist in G-Force adds to the strength of my judgment,' says De Jong.
Goodr: surfing the web and planting trees at the same time
Ewan Scholte (31) is still somewhat at "attic room level," as he puts it. But the ambitions he has with Goodr are not exactly less so. The main goal is ten million users. A little big thinking is allowed, Scholte believes. He has developed a technique through which money goes to charities through web surfing and the Goodr browser plugin. 'Parties like Facebook or Google earn from web users. You can also use that online value in other ways.' For planting trees or cleaning up plastic soup, for example. Goodr is G-Force's most recent investment. 'I ended up at G-Force through Flinc. There was a good click from the beginning. We share beliefs and we have common ground.' Scholte wants to use the funding to perfect and scale up the technology. Because Scholte wants to gain momentum. Another part goes to marketing.
Answer 4 simple questions to quickly find out if you may qualify for funding through NOM.Do the funding check