Frank Thelen, Founder and CEO of Freigeist Capital
How did startup fundraising change in the last year? Some investors say COVID-19 didn’t have a huge impact on the VC sector. Do you agree with that assessment?
I would agree that the pandemic hasn’t had a direct impact on our investment behaviour, because we are a long-term Tech VC with a time horizon of 5 - 10 years. Our portfolio luckily isn’t directly affected by the pandemic, and we had some successful fundraising rounds last year. I can’t speak for every VC or every sector, but for a Tech VC and within our network, we didn’t notice big changes due to the pandemic.
What are the five technologies that you’re most excited about?
Artificial intelligence will disrupt almost every sector and combined with other disruptive technologies like 3D-printing, robotics, Blockchain, and quantum computing, there will be many new services and products emerging.
You talk about the need to modernize the school systems. What is your vision for the school of tomorrow so we can have more and more bright minds in Europe?
We need to urgently rethink what and how we teach in our schools. The future is digital, so every student should have a basic understanding of the technologies that are shaping this world. There should be classes on entrepreneurship to enable students to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives. If we want to remain a strong economical force, Europe needs to set the focus on technological innovation, starting at the schools.
Last year you invested in Endurosat. Where do you see the company moving forward in the space sector?
I’m confident that Endurosat will become a leading player in a newly emerging sector, enabling startups and research centres to collect and share space data to build completely new services. With their Shared Satellite as a Service, they will open up the endless opportunities of space data to a broader audience and therefore accelerate the developments in this sector. It has been an incredible experience working with Raycho and his team on the product, growing the team and winning many new customers. The passion and energy are very unique.
Why can’t Europe create a tech champion like Google or Facebook? Is it just the startup mentality here or also something else?
Firstly, we need what I call a 10xDNA. The mindset originated from the moon landing in 1969 in the US, where it was proven that a team of dedicated and motivated researchers and engineers was actually able to accomplish something as big as landing a man on the moon. This mindset has led to a lot of bold innovations and outstanding entrepreneurs in the states, which have become role models for the next generation of founders. We need heroes in Europe to show that it actually is possible to drive innovation and disrupt industries as a startup. What we also need is capital and a regulatory framework that allows for innovation to happen. I don’t see the problem in our startup mentality, we have some outstanding founders in Europe. What we need is an overall mindset shift and to reduce the fear of failure across all industries so that big things can happen in Europe again.
Did your experience as a TV personality change somewhat your approach as an investor?
It definitely changed the way I am able to support our portfolio companies as an investor. Being a person of interest in Germany opened a lot of doors for me and I got to build up a very valuable network and strong relationships with media, politicians and experts and decision-makers from many different industries. We leverage this network to support our portfolio companies, which in turn allows us to add a lot more value to the company besides our initial investment. This probably also helped secure a few deals with startups that had multiple offers on the table.