Are we about to see the rise of intellectual capital investments?

Interview
A decade ago, the world had no idea where the bottom of the financial crisis was. Today, we're in a situation that couldn't possibly be more different – there seems to be no ceiling to business growth. And although it's still very hard for startups to land a major investment, quality projects are not suffering from a lack of funding opportunities. What happens next?

I believe we're about to see the rise of intellectual capital investments, and startups will start paying more attention to the network an investor is connected to, what people they can bring to the project using their professional “gravitational field”, and how many years worth of experience they've gathered during their career.

But can you quantify intellectual capital?

In the US, it's common for an advisory board to get equity. Not huge numbers, but still – imagine you're one of Uber's early mentors, and you get half a per cent of the company for it. Your share would be worth almost half a billion dollars today. I assume we all agree that that's a sum for which it’s worth sharing your know-how with the founders.

To quantify intellectual capital is still very difficult, though. In the end, it's always up to the founders and the investors to come to an agreement, and it has little to do with hard data such as sales up to that point. At UP21, we've been discussing this topic since we implemented our system of co-pilots to replace traditional mentors. Yet we're still looking for a definitive answer.

Vítek Šubert, Co-founder & CEO UP21 incubator

The good news is that startup founders have begun to notice the importance of intellectual capital. Not long ago – two or three years back – startups would approach investors asking for nothing but money. Today, even in the Czech Republic we have about thirty per cent of startups not just raising funds, but utilizing our network in Silicon Valley (where they aim to expand), and setting up introductions with other founders and so on. And even if we for example recommend turning to the Asian market instead of the American one, it's nice to see they think in broader terms than “just” the amount in their bank account.

I don't intend to say that financial investments are losing their meaning. They have been and will remain on top of the list of things investors can offer to startups. After all, what good would it do if an investor could connect you directly with Elon Musk but your startup would vanish in a few months due to lack of resources?

However, I believe that intellectual capital investments will start gaining momentum, and that we can already get inspired from our colleagues in (where else, right) Silicon Valley. Founders there are very aware of the fact that when an investor has funding to provide, they'll presumably have influence, contacts, know-how, successful exits, unsuccessful expansions and other hard-to-quantify, yet crucial benefits.

More such enlightened startups in Europe, please!

Vítek Šubert, spoluzakladatel a CEO inkubátoru UP21, manažer s více než dvacetiletou zkušeností z korporátního světa a team leader orientovaný na budování silné firemní kultury. Stál prakticky u zrodu online byznysu v České republice – na přelomu tisíciletí vybudoval a vedl internetovou divizi tehdejšího Českého Telecomu pod značkou Internet On Online (IOL).Po třiadvaceti letech ve světě nadnárodních korporací začal v roce 2015 na zelené louce stavět inkubátor UP21, kterým do dnešního dne prošlo přes 18 pečlivě vybraných projektů.

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