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EUVC #208 Simone Brummelhuis, Borski Fund

EUVC #208 Simone Brummelhuis, Borski Fund

Read on for the core insights 👀 A deep dive on diversity investing, raising funds in this space and the importance of finding anchor LPs and advisors with true impact.

Today we are happy to welcome Simone Brummelhuis, Founding Partner & Fund Director of Borski Fund, a VC fund improving access to capital for companies that are either run by female entrepreneurs, or improve gender equality in a different way. Simone is also Supervisory Board Member of Royal Schiphol group, Rabo Amsterdam and Media Huis Nederland. She previously founded The Next Women, providing access to capital, programs, resources and networks for female entrepreneur and is Founding Investor and Director of The Next Women Crowd Fund.

Simone’s Journey into Venture

In a way I was quite late to the venture game. On the other hand, because of the thesis that we chose, which was diversity in tech, I was a little bit earlier than others.

Simone's journey began with a multifaceted career trajectory that led her through various sectors. With a background in law and a successful stint as an entrepreneur, she later ventured into non-executive roles within listed companies. However, it was her involvement with an organization dedicated to empowering female entrepreneurs that provided the catalyst for her foray into venture capital. Drawing from her capacity-building experiences, Simone recognized that venture capital was the logical progression to further impact the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Venturing into the world of venture capital came with its own set of considerations for Simone. As she entered the space, she acknowledged her entry might have come later in her career journey, yet her chosen thesis of diversity and technology positioned her ahead of her time. Her unique approach was defined by a willingness to step into new territory a bit earlier than others.

Reflecting on her initial inclination towards venture capital, Simone recalled an encounter with Reshma Sohoni of Seedcamp back in 2006. At the time, Simone expressed her interest in joining a venture firm. However, Reshma's candid advice provided a different perspective. Reshma's words resonated, and Simone redirected her focus, building on her foundation as an entrepreneur. This strategic pivot not only reinforced her qualifications but also aligned her journey with her ultimate vision.

As the years progressed, Simone's journey led her to establish her first venture firm in 2015—a pilot fund aimed at testing the waters of diversity and technology within the venture landscape. This initiative laid the groundwork for what was to come—the birth of Borski Fund. This larger venture capital fund, launched in 2020, marked a significant milestone in Simone's venture capital journey. With a focus on diversity and technology, the Borski Fund's mission echoed Simone's overarching commitment to driving meaningful change within the tech ecosystem.

Simone’s Pivotal Moment

This watershed incident dates back to Simone's days as an entrepreneur, a journey that profoundly shaped her perspective as an investor in today's dynamic startup landscape.

Simone embarked on her entrepreneurial voyage by co-founding a pioneering restaurant technology company, a venture that would eventually be acquired by TripAdvisor. In the nascent stages, Simone's company was at the forefront of user-generated content and innovative technology for online restaurant bookings. However, being pioneers in an uncharted domain meant enduring the challenges of introducing a paradigm shift.

In those initial phases, the company faced the uphill battle of coaxing customers to adopt online reservations when traditional phone calls were the norm. This juncture demanded a pivotal transformation – transitioning from a business model centered around selling books to a revolutionary restaurant reservation system. The hurdles were significant, as this shift not only entailed reengineering the technical infrastructure but also reshaping the very essence of the business.

What stood out in this pivotal moment was the tenacity displayed by Simone and her team. In her own words, "We knew that if we were changing our business model towards a restaurant reservation system, that in the beginning no one would really use it. We needed those first users." This pivotal realization underscores a fundamental truth of innovation: trailblazing often entails traversing uncharted territory, with early adoption being an uphill battle.

The resonance of this pivotal moment is mirrored in Simone's investment philosophy at Borski Fund. The companies she invests in today often face analogous challenges of pivoting their business models. The empathy she developed through her own experience shapes her understanding of the intricate dance between investor patience and entrepreneurial transformation.

She underscores the vital role investors play during such turbulent times. The crux of the matter lies in identifying investors who possess a unique blend of experience, vision, and patience – those who have navigated the tumultuous waters of business model pivots themselves. "Changing your business model is really need an investor who has done that before and who understands that that takes time, that you should be patient, that it's a sprint, but also a marathon," Simone asserts.

This resonates as a cornerstone of her approach at Borski Fund. Weathering the storm with her investees, providing unwavering support during moments of transformation, is a testament to her holistic understanding of entrepreneurship's ebbs and flows. It echoes her own journey where staying the course and recalibrating the approach yielded long-term success.

Simone taking a stance

Simone Brummelhus, General Partner at Borski Fund, weighs in on a notion that has sparked both debate and contemplation within the investment landscape: the relationship between diversity and investment excellence. Her perspective, rooted in a deep-seated understanding of the intricate dynamics at play, transcends the conventional dichotomy and posits a broader, more nuanced stance.

In addressing the assertion, "I don't care about diversity. I only care about investing in the best funds," Simone delves into the multifaceted nature of what defines the "best." She queries, "What is the best? Is that the best for innovation purposes, the best from financial purposes? Is it the best for the short term? Is it the best for the long term?" Her line of questioning casts a spotlight on the need to deconstruct and evaluate the various dimensions that underpin investment excellence.

As she delves into the domain of diversity, Simone emphasizes the stark contrast in clarity when it comes to its definition. "The definition of diversity is much clearer," she asserts. Investing in diverse entrepreneurs, diverse innovations, and diverse stages of a company isn't just about risk mitigation; it's about fostering an ecosystem rich with opportunities, untethered from the herd mentality that often prevails among investors.

Drawing attention to the European landscape, Simone candidly acknowledges the inadequacies in the diversity narrative. She highlights the scarcity of funds investing in women-led ventures and innovations. Female LPs remain underrepresented, and diversity policies, where they exist, are often more applicable to endeavors beyond Europe's borders. This stark reality underscores the nascent stages of fostering a truly diverse investment ecosystem in the region.

Simone's perspective transcends the confines of a single metric. She envisions a world where investment excellence doesn't solely hinge on financial gains but is also intricately interwoven with holistic well-being.

"If you want to build a world where we do not only want to become rich, but we also wanna be healthy and educated and have happy children, and a society not solely defined by money, then 'best' takes on a different dimension."

Bringing a profound depth to the discourse, Simone explores the ramifications of a singular financial-centric approach. She highlights the potential misalignment between funds that yield financial returns and those that contribute to societal well-being and sustainability. Her narrative underscores that in the pursuit of investment excellence, the notion of "best" should embrace a spectrum of criteria beyond immediate financial gains.

Summing up her stance, Simone accentuates that the phrase "I don't care about diversity. I only care about investing in the best funds" oversimplifies a multifaceted reality. For her, diversity isn't just a checkbox; it's the gateway to a well-rounded innovation landscape. It's about ensuring that perspectives from diverse backgrounds and genders converge to address a multitude of challenges.

In a world striving for comprehensive progress and sustainable growth, Simone's advocacy for a more inclusive, holistic understanding of investment excellence stands as a guiding principle. For her, diversity isn't just a buzzword – it's an imperative that shapes a future where investment excellence is aligned with a multipurpose perspective.

Reimagining the Landscape: Simone's Quest for LP Gender Diversity

In a captivating exploration of venture capital's uncharted territories, Simone Brummelhuis, a dynamic figure in the industry, peers into a lesser-considered facet – the gender diversity within Limited Partners (LPs). Her insights, as nuanced as they are profound, not only shed light on the strides achieved in reshaping the investor landscape but also dissect the subtle dichotomy that often arises between media portrayals and concrete progress.

Embarking on the intricate domain of LPs, Simone upends traditional norms with flair. A remarkable 70% of her venture fund's LPs are women, a statistic that, in itself, merits attention.

"70 percent of them are women so we actually always talk about how we can get more men interested in this topic? [And we’re finding that] the first movers are the men who have daughters who are then interested in understanding how we move the needle on innovation invented by women or by diverse teams"

Yet, Simone's approach, as she reveals, is far from conventional. She turns her gaze toward a seemingly divergent goal: rallying more men to participate in conversations about gender diversity. It's here that she unravels an engrossing paradox. The vanguard among male LPs emerges as fathers who have daughters, particularly those studying technical disciplines and nurturing entrepreneurial ambitions. Their avid interest in fostering innovation from diverse teams is both a celebration of breaking gender stereotypes and a tangible leap toward an inclusive investment ecosystem.

However, Simone's engagement isn't driven by serendipity alone. Delving deeper, she unveils her meticulously designed community blueprint. Armed with a profound understanding of the investment landscape, she brings together women entrepreneurs and finance experts. These women, having deftly navigated the interface between entrepreneurship and finance, coalesce within what Simone dubs the "Next Women Hundred." This collective not only cultivates women-led businesses but also serves as a transformative vehicle, driving these enterprises towards unprecedented success.

Stepping into the realm of LP diversity, Simone doesn't leave any stone unturned. Her foresight and calculated strategy stand out as beacons in a complex landscape. She identifies a crucial link that often remains obscured – the transition from successful entrepreneurship to becoming LPs. Simone's unwavering belief that individuals with firsthand entrepreneurial experiences possess invaluable insights to enrich the investor discourse is resonant.

Amid her narrative, Simone shares a poignant anecdote – her quest for an anchor investor. This journey, marked by resilience and determination, unravels an underpinning truth: while timing might have played its role, it underscores the indispensable necessity for LPs to recognize diversity as a catalyst for transformative investments.

However, diversity within LPs, as per Simone, constitutes a narrative that transcends mere gender considerations. It signifies a wider tapestry of innovation. While traversing these arenas, Simone acknowledges the necessity for a well-calibrated balance between awareness, strategy, and execution. The allure of media coverage, as essential as it is in casting a spotlight on success stories, must not cast a shadow over the arduous marathon of execution required to usher in tangible change.

As the discourse pivots toward the concept of a media-reality gap, Simone's insights implore us to contemplate its intricacies. The paradox emerges from the stark juxtaposition of heightened media coverage and sometimes, unintentional complacency it fosters. In a sphere where headlines often eclipse reality, Simone's emphasis on sustained dedication and enduring strategies resounds. Within a landscape that constantly evolves, she underscores the transformative potential of strategic alliances, exemplified by the Fiza Foundation's investment. With measured optimism, Simone emphasizes that we are merely scratching the surface in the journey of transformation.

Simone’s shout-out 💌

In the journey towards fostering diversity and innovation in the venture capital landscape, a chorus of voices rises, each note contributing to a harmonious symphony of change. Amid this resonance, it's crucial to acknowledge the key figures who have played pivotal roles in pushing the boundaries of conventional investment paradigms. These champions have not only shared their wisdom but have also backed their convictions with tangible actions.

One standout figure that commands admiration is Laura Rooseboom, Simone’s co-founder who shattered the confines of her already illustrious career in Cleantech to venture into uncharted territory. Her courage to embrace risk and explore new verticals has set an inspiring example. In a world that often clings to familiarity, Lara's willingness to challenge the status quo deserves a resounding shout-out. Her visionary approach opened doors to new possibilities and, in turn, breathed life into a new era of innovation.

Another name that deserves recognition is Sacha Engels, whose astute advice proved instrumental in shaping the course of success. When Simone faced the crossroads of decisions on forging partnerships and charting long-term visions, Saia's wisdom echoed loud and clear. "Find a business partner," she advised, illuminating the path forward. Sasca's practical wisdom reminds us that collaboration is often the linchpin for transformative ventures. Her voice, rooted in experience, stands as a guiding light for aspiring investors navigating uncharted waters.

Assembling the pieces of a transformative journey often demands that visionary individuals step forward and set a precedent. One such figure is a leader from the legal vesting realm, whose name might not be known by all but whose impact resonates deeply. This individual's insistence on committing thoughts to paper—to write the investment memorandum—taught Simone a profound lesson in execution. Their insistence on deadlines and structured action underscored the importance of clarity in strategy, guiding the nascent venture along its course.

Equally deserving of applause is Mirelle Pennings, a trailblazer from Rabobank. In a landscape where hesitation often precedes action, Mirelle’s role in being the first to place the signature—a symbol of commitment—stood as a catalyst for the journey. Initiating the leap from strategy to execution, MI's contribution propelled the venture from intention to reality. Their courage reminds us that change doesn't wait for permission; it begins with bold steps and signature actions.

Finally, no tribute to these transformative endeavors would be complete without acknowledging the influence of royalty itself. Queen Máxima, as a United Nations special envoy, lent her voice to advocate for diversity and technology on an international scale. Her unwavering belief that investing in women is an investment in progress holds a mirror to our collective responsibility. Her presence at the celebration of the inaugural launch of O Borsky Fund underscored the ripple effect of advocacy from the highest echelons.

Simone’s Three Biggest Learnings

1. Hard Work and Deadlines Make Sense: The first of Simone's core learnings resonates with the bedrock of success: hard work and deadlines. This lesson is more than just a truism; it's a guiding principle that has shaped her journey. Whether it was penning her investment memorandum on an Italian beach or seizing an opportunity to apply for a graduate program in New York, Simone's commitment to meeting deadlines has fueled her accomplishments. The urgency that deadlines instill, combined with the dedication to put in the hard work, propels ventures forward and transforms aspirations into achievements.

2. The Value of a Stable Family: The second learning underscores the symbiotic relationship between personal stability and professional innovation. Simone attests that having a stable family serves as a cushion that enables entrepreneurs to accelerate and experiment while providing a safe harbor to slow down and reflect. This stability extends beyond the traditional concept of family and embraces teams and networks. By fostering a solid foundation, entrepreneurs can navigate the challenges of the VC world with a steady perspective and the resilience to weather storms.

3. Innovation Requires Investment: The third key learning highlights the inextricable link between groundbreaking innovations and the financial resources needed to bring them to life. Simone's assertion that "great innovations need money" is a reminder that no matter how revolutionary an idea may be, without the necessary capital infusion, it remains a mere concept. Investment serves as the catalyst that transforms ideas into reality, powering the trajectory of change and progress.

Unpacking Simone's Learnings:

Hard Work and Deadlines: Simone's unwavering commitment to hard work and deadlines traces back to pivotal moments in her life. The resonant tale of applying for a program at Columbia University, coupled with the transformational experience of drafting an investment memorandum while relaxing on an Italian beach, highlights the transformative power of deadlines. Simone's story echoes the sentiment that setting and meeting deadlines instill discipline and drive, amplifying the impact of diligence and dedication.

The Value of a Stable Family: Simone's emphasis on stability extends beyond personal spheres, illustrating its critical role in fostering innovation. Her narrative emphasizes the importance of familial stability, which provides the foundation for entrepreneurial risk-taking and long-term commitment. The acknowledgment that stability encompasses diverse relationships underscores the relevance of nurturing supportive networks within the VC community. Simone's perspective mirrors the evolving recognition of the interplay between personal well-being and professional success.

Innovation Requires Investment: The notion that innovative breakthroughs necessitate financial backing is a cornerstone of Simone's philosophy. Her assertion echoes the core tenet of venture capital—identifying transformative ideas and providing the resources to catalyze their impact. Simone's perspective underscores the role of investment as a bridge between visionary concepts and their tangible realization. It serves as a reminder to the VC community of its role in driving the trajectory of progress by channeling resources into promising innovations.

🔫 The Quickfire Round 🔫

Q: What advice would you give your 10 year younger self?

There is always a time to start something new.

Q: What are your top tips for emerging VCs across Europe who are fundraising?

When discussing emerging VCs, particularly among women who are embarking on the journey of establishing their own funds, it's important to recognize that encountering numerous rejections is a common aspect of this path. Learning to embrace these rejections and not internalize them as personal failures is a crucial lesson to grasp.

As previously mentioned, a practical strategy is to establish specific deadlines for different stages. For instance, building your pipeline becomes a targeted milestone. Reaching out to potential collaborators becomes a time-sensitive objective. Moreover, there's the significant moment when you await a definitive "yes" or "no" – another distinct deadline. This deliberate structuring of goals through deadlines is pivotal. Additionally, I find it valuable to emphasize the role of effective promotion. In this endeavor, you're not alone in seeking recognition. Collaborators and promoters play a pivotal part in advocating for you and your vision. Therefore, fostering a network of promoters who can vouch for your capabilities becomes a paramount pursuit. Accepting rejections, adhering to structured deadlines, and strategically employing promoters are the three essential insights I offer to those embarking on this journey.

What is the most counterintuitive thing you've learned since you've been in venture?

Observing technology teams, it's evident that certain individuals—tech enthusiasts and even some self-proclaimed "super nerds" within the technology domain—excel as salespeople, despite often remaining unaware of this hidden skill within themselves. This intriguing aspect is undeniably counterintuitive. It's particularly thought-provoking for those who find themselves deeply immersed in scientific pursuits or other specialized fields. The notion of transitioning to a sales role might seem incongruous. Some of these entrepreneurs have dedicated themselves so fervently to their scientific or technical endeavors that the prospect of engaging in sales activities can appear foreign or even intimidating to them. However, this is where the revelation lies: even technology-focused teams and individuals with a strong penchant for tech-related matters can adeptly navigate the realm of sales. This insight challenges conventional assumptions, not just from my perspective, but also for those who might be the very tech enthusiasts surprised to find themselves capable of selling.

Controversial statement

It's crucial to reconsider certain established statements. In the context of diversity, I want to address a well-known saying that centers around the question: Are we fixing the women, or are we fixing the system? This discourse has led to a prolonged debate. If you search for this phrase online, you'll find that some individuals advocate for shifting the focus away from fixing women and instead on fixing the underlying systems. And that would be my controversial statement: If we say fix the system, it means fix the men.

Join us for Affinity’s webinar on The Power of Relation-drive Deal Sourcing

Tue, Sep 19, 2023, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM CET

The best investment opportunities are very selective about who they bring to the table, and almost every VC can tell you that “the one that got away” was hidden in their existing network.

Relationship-driven deal sourcing is the foundation for building a portfolio of successful companies. Consistent, high-quality deal sourcing depends on relationships, but building and nurturing a network that can bring in a steady stream of opportunities takes time and energy. You can’t focus on relationship nurture if you have to rely on your colleagues’ memories or static Excel spreadsheets to track the details of your firm’s interactions.

In this webinar, we'll discuss:
- Actionable ways that VCs can source more deals from their network
- Strategies for managing risk in investments
- How to use Affinity to manage day-to-day deal flow and investor relationships in one place