What TTT brought the knowledge institutions
“The combination of public efforts with pre-seed venture capital is unique and is also very popular abroad.”
The 4TU and TNO ensure that knowledge does not remain within the walls of the knowledge institutions, but that it is brought to society. The TTT instrument provides support in the earliest spin-off phase. What has the scheme brought to knowledge institutions so far? We talked to Sebastiaan Berendse, director of Value Creation at Wageningen University & Research, and Jeroen van Woerden, managing director at The Gate of Eindhoven University of Technology.
This article was published earlier in the TTT Magazine #6.
Berendse was involved in the development of TTT from the start. Berendse: “Together with the other technical universities, we entered into discussions with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK). What is the challenge when it comes to startup valorization? Why do some spin-offs fail to scale? When you start answering those questions, you quickly come to the conclusion that the challenge lies in the earliest phases: in ideation and pre-venturing. After sitting down to think about the instrument, we were able to devise and submit the first two programs. We did this together with venture capital funds that wanted to invest earlier than they usually did. Those two programs were Smart Industry and Circular Technology. For the latter I was also involved in the pitch to RVO & NWO. You have to arrange a lot before such a program is in place and can be pitched. Fortunately, it was honored and I am now involved in the programmatic implementation.”
Acceleration of valorization
Van Woerden’s first introduction to the TTTs came a little later. He started at The Gate in 2021 and hopped on the moving train. Van Woerden: “Smart Industry, Circular Technology and MedTech had all already started. Because of my role I was part of all the core groups and I immediately became enthusiastic about the instrument. In Eindhoven we had to accelerate in the field of valorization, and TTT helps with that. It gives spin-offs a greater chance of survival in an early phase and in later phases it becomes more attractive for investment funds to enter. This way, the spin-offs can scale up, continue to grow and make a real impact.”
Berendse: “With the TTTs we can clearly organize speed, transparency and unity. We check whether a case can be financed, or whether it first requires another technology that is available at another knowledge institution. Because we are honest about whether it will work or not, we can build cases better.”
Trust as a success factor
This transparency exists not only from the knowledge institutions to the spin-offs, but also among themselves. Both Berendse and Van Woerden agree that cooperation based on trust is the greatest success factor of the TTTs. Van Woerden: “I think it’s great to see how we really work together with TTT and not compete with each other. I also do not believe that our competition is here in the Netherlands, or even in Europe. Then it is extra nice if you have that trust in each other so that you can make mistakes and learn from them.” Berendse underlines this. “We said from the start that we were going to do it together. This also means that you sometimes have to open up a book about how you look at cases and how you can contribute by adding something from your own stable. Due to this willingness to collaborate, the spin-offs can also benefit from knowledge from other universities and you now see that more and more projects are emerging from multiple knowledge institutions. Moreover, there is not only trust between the knowledge institutions, but also with the collaborating partners and investors. By letting VC funds take a look much earlier, we can give development objectives to the spin-offs earlier, which increases their chance of success. To increase this opportunity even further, we work closely with funds that can invest multi-stage in subsequent growth steps.”
The construction of the TTTs makes it possible to involve those VCs in the spin-offs at an early stage. Van Woerden explains: “The TTT scheme reduces the risk for investors by financing part of the fund. The VCs manage the fund. It is important that the business case is correct and scalable, but TTT also helps with that. This makes it easier for investors to step in for the next phase. The combination of public money with venture capital is unique and is also very popular abroad.”
Continuing, developing and broadening
Whether the ‘export’ scheme is the next step for TTT? “The most important thing is that we continue the TTT approach,” says Van Woerden. “We must open ourselves up to other parties such as other universities, colleges, but also regional development agencies. It is now good for the four technical universities and TNO, but ultimately it must be good for the whole of the Netherlands. Investments are also made in spin-off cases from other institutions, but more can and should be done. We can already harvest the first results, but we also have to sow for the next round to improve the system.”
As far as Berendse is concerned, the focus in the next round will also be on expanding the scheme within the Netherlands. “The TTTs are based on the Knowledge and Innovation Agendas. There are a number of these that do not have a science-based startup program, such as agrifood, safety, and social sciences. They may need a different financing model than the technology-driven programs, so I think it would be interesting to see how we can accommodate that. TTT does exactly what it needs to do to fill the pitfalls in the earliest development phase of spin-offs. Now the challenge is to further develop and broaden this.”