An interview by 53°N with Marieke Wassing and Alain Kummer from NLC – The Healthtech Venture Builder
We already knew about VCs, incubators, accelerators, but lately a new species was created by humankind: the venture builder. With increasing volatility in markets, the acceleration of innovation and growing competitiveness in tech, the start-up model is in constant development. NLC jumped ahead as a venture builder four years ago with a clear focus on HealthTech. Alain and Marieke tell us about their business model, how it brings innovation to the market faster, and how they ended up in such an interesting organization.
Adding value from the start
“We primarily focus on the ideas that come straight from the inventors”, Alain explains to us. Especially in the healthcare industry, a lot of innovations are patented by researchers at universities and hospitals, but many of these are not picked up by the traditional players like pharmaceuticals or medtech companies straight away. “inventors often lack the will or skill to bring their innovation to the market and this is where NLC comes in”. Having strong ties with most Dutch universities and hospitals they are close to the source. This year they evaluated about 1000 patents, and through their funnel approach and a lot of brainstorming with founders, they have already started about 20 new ventures.
“If the product-market fit is right and we can come to a deal, we go into a new phase”. Often that means that the venture builders set up a company that licenses in the technology. The NLC team finds a CEO, helps with shaping and training the team and keeps the inventors close to the progress. “We have a growing and very diverse team of professionals… with people from the medical and research field like myself, entrepreneurs, executive search, financial specialists and investors, legal advisers, etc.” Alain tells us. “We only go for an idea, if we really believe we can add true value with the entire team.”
NLC started only four years ago, is ambitious and grows fast. They are now also expanding into other countries, where the gap between innovation and market is even bigger, for instance Germany and the Nordics. Additionally, more and more corporates are knocking on their door as well. “Corporates start seeing the value we’re bringing and are interested in working with us.”
Doing it the other way around?
As students from INSEAD, we learned that when creating a start-up ‘by the book’, you should start with the problem and then find the solution. Since NLC’s approach is technology driven, we asked them the question: aren’t you doing it the other way around? “The first thing we do with the inventors is forcing them to think about the customers and their problem”, pointing to a slightly adjusted Business Model Canvas at the wall. With up to a thousand patents, their challenge is making sure their existing tech solutions do indeed have a real customer problem. They tell us that this is part of the funnel process and that, if the product-market fit is not clear, projects will be dropped leaving some disappointed inventors from time to time.
And aren’t they afraid that they turn down great ideas, that later prove to be successful? “That happens for sure. But if we have the feeling that we can’t add value, our paths divert and we wish them luck on their journey. Our common goal is to help patients and if they are successful without us, that goal is still reached and so then we are happy as well.”
Being a venture builder…
Working at NLC is a very diverse experience. You will follow multiple start-ups from ideation to exit and with a very hands-on way of working contribute a lot to the potential success. “Coming from an academic background, I had to adapt to the fast-forward way of doing things. You don’t have to be 110% right, but 80% right. As a scientist, I was not used to that, but now working here for 6 months I start getting it”, Alain explains us. Within his role ‘Director Scouting & Medical Affairs’ he can leverage a lot of his previous experience, having worked for over 20 years as a clinical pathologist and researcher, and having been a CEO for a while. Marieke joined NLC almost straight out of university and is now a ‘Venture Developer’.
“It is really cool to be on the forefront of all the innovations that are coming up and changing the industry” is what gives Marieke energy. Healthcare is a very complex and interesting industry. Working together with different stakeholders and discovering what technology can offer is fascinating. In addition, we believe that for many people NLC could be a great alternative to working at a VC or Consultancy and would be a great learning experience before starting your own company.
Thanks a lot for the interview and we are sure that we are going to hear much more from NLC!
And finally, our two wacky questions…
…If NLC was an animal what would it be? “A zoo, reflecting the diversity we have in our team and can bring to our ventures”
…And if you can hire anyone in the world for NLC who would it be? “Probably Yoda (Jedi Master)”. Wise and powerful and can oversee where things are going to.