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CEO of Tech VC generator Antler gives top tips for reducing startup risks

The early-stage venture capital and start-up generator Antler showcased the 11 tech companies created in its first Dutch program last Wednesday, having launched 12 Australian companies at an event in Sydney just days before. Over the next four years Antler aims to generate 150 Dutch companies from its Amsterdam hub – an ambitious target for an organisation that is only a year-and-a-half old.

“We are not just building companies out of the Netherlands for the Netherlands – we are building companies out of the Netherlands for the world,” says Antler CEO Magnus Grimeland in an interview with NL Times. 

Nearly all of the 11 startups demonstrated this global scalability to an auditorium of over 200 investors. One HealthTech company announced it had enabled on-site personalised medical implants via 3D printing, with another claiming it could improve shipping logistics and reduce CO2 emissions with their “Waze for containers” solution.

Antler selects candidates to lead new tech businesses, helps them build a strong founding team and business model, and then invests to support growth. They explain that the key difference between an accelerator or incubator and a generator is that the founders do not need to enter the program with an existing startup or set team.

Number One: Check you have the right team

Antler is not the first program in this space to publicise how essential having a strong team is, but Grimeland says it’s still one of the leading causes of startup failure.

According to him, diversity is the solution and he advises individual founders to choose partners with a different skill set to their own. To achieve this in the program, Antler selects an even spread of candidates from these three categories: Hackers (true technologists), Hipsters (techy but with product knowledge), and Hustlers (strong business background).

Their program focuses on sourcing “exceptional individuals” rather than accelerating existing start-ups. Grimeland believes taking the best and brightest brains out of their nine-to-five and enabling them to lead new ventures is the quickest route to real impact.

Grimeland says, “When you think about how civilisation moves forward, how we will solve climate issues, how we will make people’s lives better, this is done by great individuals innovating to solve real problems.”

Grimeland adds that while some of these individuals are already building great companies, others stay in large corporations or in research roles at top universities. He says that pulling them out of positions that “may contribute a little” and reutilising their expertise in an environment geared towards boundary-pushing will get us closer to solving the world’s biggest problems.

Number Two: Don’t build it first. No, seriously, don’t.

It’s true that Bill Gates sold the first Microsoft product before writing a single line of its code. Grimeland says, after bad team dynamics, the second biggest blunder is not validating the product with customers. “Where I see many founders go wrong is that they think they can’t test a product without building it first and this is just not the case. When I have an idea I go to the business and ask whether they’d buy it from me, and if they would, then I go and build it.”

Antler is industry-agnostic, a feature the founder says is simply so participants don’t get stuck doing something they don’t want to do.

“If you’re an AI engineer you can build a shipping company, you can build a food tech company, and you can build a fintech company. Similarly, if you spent ten years at McKinsey and left as a partner, you can structure an organisation around many different types of products,” Grimeland says. “We don’t want to be prescriptive on business models – we want to be prescriptive on the quality of teams.”

While it may seem unrealistic for one program to cater to all industries, Grimeland explains that the network of advisors are incentivised because most are also early investors. This arrangement ensures companies get the very best help while safeguarding the value of Antler’s funds.

Grimeland is currently focused on attracting new and active investors to Antler, an activity he says is getting easier with the increasing amount of applications (now surpassing 50,000 annually). Antler believes they truly are sourcing the best of the best. Grimeland says, “What we are doing is allowing investors in early to take an ownership stake in people and teams that are more likely to succeed at whatever they do.”

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