What makes a good investor-startup relationship? How is investing different as an angel than as part of a corporate venture? – these were the questions I had in mind when preparing for a call with Alina, a woman of many hats. Through her journey from corporate leadership to corporate venturing, she knows business inside and out, and talks about it with such enthusiasm that I could listen to her for hours on end.
SkenarioLabs, a Helsinki-based AI-powered proptech company recently closed a seed funding round with innogy Innovation Hub, marking their first investment in the Nordics. This gave us the opportunity to talk to Alina Prawdzik, Head of Smart & Connected and CEE, innogy Innovation Hub about their future plans – and so much more.
Bringing the future to real estate
Innogy is looking for investments in 4 strategic areas: Machine Economy, Disruptive Digital, Cyber Security and Smart&Connected. The latter, headed by Alina, focuses on proptech and construction tech with a clear vision on the future of buildings: they believe that their future customers are the buildings themselves (without human interaction!) as they will become autonomous, forming smart organisms. “And since buildings consume 40% of energy today then we better make sure that our future customers are happy with us” – she adds.
With this vision they are actively looking for startups in Europe and Israel. Apart from their first Finnish investment, her team recently closed deals in the UK and Israel. SkenarioLabs, and both of these companies (Calipsa and Buildots) are working toward this very vision using AI, machine learning, 3D modeling. “I see that these technologies are converging and finding use-cases in this very traditional industry – real estate and construction – that is yet to be disrupted. We are hoping that we will be the ones disrupting it by bringing solutions that could be the future of how buildings operate.”
Corporate, angel, VC
Coming from corporate leadership, becoming an angel investor and now being active in the field of corporate venture capital, Alina sees business, investing, and the startup-investor relationships on a holistic scale. “Even at eBay, I was more of an intrapreneur, an entrepreneur within the company, having my own things I am responsible for.” After leaving, she became an angel investor. “ I was thinking, with my experience, my background and a the fact that I actually like to see results, maybe it is the right way for me to work with startups “ – and with her first angel investment, she became the COO of Polish Audioteka and started working with a female enterpreneurship foundation.
Now, with innogy, they are proud of building strong, lasting strategic relationships. “We are there for the long run, we’d like to see the startup grow and would like to support this growth.”
Making sure it’s a good match
With offices in Berlin, Warsaw, London, Palo Alto and Tel-Aviv, they have colleagues out there, as part of the ecosystem, scouting for startups that fit their vision. They also fly to different events all over Europe, including the Nordics – this is how they found SkenarioLabs. If they are interested in a company, a number of things have to check out for them to invest.
The product as a solution to a problem
What is the problem they try to solve, how do they try to solve it, and is it realistic? “Very often, when you are into something, you tend to see it as a much bigger problem. So we go to the industry partners and ask them if they see this as a problem and if they are willing to pay the price for it.”
How advanced it is, how easy it is to copy, does it deliver, what is the USP and business proposal?
“We always get to know the founder and the co-founding team, and this goes beyond one or two meetings. What are their skills? Are they complimentary? We always do an assesment on what they have and what they need.”
For the relationship to work between the investor and the team – which is almost like a marriage sometimes, with its ups and downs – there has to be honesty and trust. “Do I believe this person will deliver what they say they will? Do we have the same values? To have business honesty, intellectual honesty, to deliver and keeping your word – these are the things that for me are no compromise. We might not be best friends, but I need to know that the values that we represent are similar, that we share them.”
+ 1 tip for startups: know your investor!
Startups need to know what kind investors are they looking for. Are you looking for a strategic partner? Or more like financial investor? Don’t be shy to ask and get to know the person or organization you are taking money from. “I prefer when I have curious startups, who actually care who are they working with to those who are just giving us the pitch without knowing who we are, how we operate.” – Alina says.
At the end of our talk I couldn’t help but ask her: how come she herself never became an entrepreneur? To this, she humbly replies “The problem with any idea I have is that I would kill it before I had the chance to take it further. With being so critical with my own ideas, it is better to support others. And working with startups and founders, I am much more respectful of how tough it is to be a successful one – not many people see it from the outside, as it is easier to just focus on the coolness of it.”
To get to know more about Corporate Venturing, its current trends globally and in the Nordics, join us on 5-6 June in Helsinki for Arctic15’s Corporate Venturing track, in collaboration with Helsinki Business Hub.