Seeing through the tech that takes 5-10 years to make an impact
Next to being a consultant and having worked in various management positions within TNO, Art has also had his fair share of entrepreneurial experiences, too. “In 2013, I got a piece of the action. I made a business plan and raised funding to carve out the fungal biotech department of TNO and created Dutch DNA Biotech.”
One of the key challenges in making the spin-off a success was to make sure that it had enough financial resources to sustain itself until the technology was ready for the market.
There is no blueprint for how to nurture and scale a high-tech startup. Each company, team, technology, market have their own challenges over time. Funding deep tech is one of them. Although it has been changing over the years, it’s still difficult to do so in the Netherlands and Europe. It is different from SaaS solutions that are easier to scale and have a shorter time-to-market.
In the case of Dutch DNA, Art found the solution in creating long-term strategic partnerships. “I aligned with strategic partners and reached out to them for their extended expertise to build the technology. They would invest a certain amount of money and own part of the technology / IP, but it was still developed under the umbrella of Dutch DNA. That’s how we financed our company.”
In July 2021, Dutch DNA was sold to US bioengineering company Gingko Bioworks, becoming its first acquisition in Europe.
“I have always been excited about applying technology to industry,” Art says. And while the company he founded was in industrial biotech, there is a much wider range of product-market combinations he can help grow. As long it is high tech and there is a click with the founders, Art is happy to reach out.
Daphne Textiles, a startup from the YES!Delft community that participated in our Accelerator Program last year, is among the companies that Art has been advising over the past months. The team is working on innovative bio fabrication techniques that would allow the fashion industry to become more sustainable, yet their challenge is: How can they make the process of growing cell cultures as cheap and efficient as possible?
“To help them with this, I connected them with industry experts and advised them on reaching out to strategic partners. Fundraising is a topic at the moment, so we discuss the way to deal with VCs,” Art says.
In depth understanding and personal match
Most of the time, Art starts off by having an in-depth talk with the founders to understand their dynamics, goals and the challenges they face. “Next to getting to know a bit of the dynamics of the company, these talks enable me to find out whether there is a cultural or personal match. There should be a good personal fit, preferably with a dose of humor, to talk about potential blind spots of the founder team.”
If there is a match, Art helps the founders to validate or re-define the goals they set themselves. “The goals can and will change over time, of course, so it’s important to iterate periodically, if not continuously. From these goals, we back engineer what is needed in the here and now. What should be tomorrow’s priorities – recruitment, funding or strategic alliances, to name a few.”
For Art, the most exciting part about coaching early-stage companies with deep tech solutions is that it’s always a combination of purpose and energy.
As there is no blueprint, you can start with only energy and a good idea. With a few sketches on the wall. Then you move on to manifesting those rough ideas and with the help of an energetic team, in 2-5 years you’re working with partners, VCs and more. You cannot find this in any corporate environment.
Essentially, it boils down to the right combination of passion, perseverance, patience and impatience, all in its proper timing, to develop an innovative technology into a company the world really needs.