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“I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of meeting startup founders with a strong drive for change.” - Saskia Hoebée [interview]

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It’s often said that startups are the future of food, bringing innovative solutions to the table in the drive to make industry more sustainable and resilient to long-term challenges such as climate change. However, according to National Business Capital, around 90% of startups ultimately fail, and over half fail in the first two years. Venture capital funds, which help companies finance and scale up their operations, can play a vital role in ensuring startup success and longevity.

Five Seasons Ventures is an early-stage venture capital fund focused on European food and Agritech companies that have a mission to make food better, healthier, safer, and more sustainable. We caught up with Saskia Hoebée, senior associate at Five Seasons Ventures to find out what drives and inspires her.

Saskia, you currently work as senior associate at Five Seasons Ventures. Can you tell us a little more about what exactly it is that you do?

“At Five Seasons Ventures, we invest in European-based startups in food tech, with the aim of backing the future category leaders in food. Think about companies that can create a new category, such as plant-based dairy or meat, or disrupt a sleeping space that has seen little innovation so far, like spices or pet food. Besides that, we actively investigate companies with a strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) angle that make a true impact on the way we purchase, produce, ship, pack, or consume food."

What do you enjoy most about your role?

“Working with inspiring entrepreneurs that want to make a change in the food system. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of meeting founders with a strong drive for change or working with our portfolio companies to grow their business. In the end, a big part of our job is relationship and network based, and that is particularly the part I enjoy most.” 

Is this the career you dreamed of having when you were younger?

“To be honest, I never heard about venture capital until I started working for Rabobank about five and a half years ago (a Netherlands-based but global food and agriculture bank) at their innovation department. The more I learned about it, the more I thought this career might suit me better instead of working for a big company.”

You mention that you particularly enjoy the relationship- and network-based work that you do as VC. What would you say has been the key to your success when it comes to maintaining and building up your networking? 

“I would say one of the keys to 'winning' deals and scouting deals before the companies actually come on the market with fundraising, [is] building a relationship with the founders for months or years. It is definitely crucial. It is, to some extent, part of a mutual due diligence process; we get to see how the company and its founders are growing with the business, plus both sides can decide if there is a fit in culture and ambition. However, there are always a lot of parameters that determine how a deal comes together, that you can't rely on relationships only. But for me personally, it's the thing I enjoy most.” 

Is there anything that you find difficult in your role or when it comes to working with these passionate startup founders and entrepreneurs?  

“I really dislike having to tell founders that we are not investing in their company, especially after we've had several conversations and sometimes even meetings in person. It is not only painful because I know that everybody's time is valuable, but especially because it is often due to factors beyond the passion of the founder; think the total addressable market or [it’s] not a fit with our fund due to the size of the company, etc. I still struggle every time I need to reject an entrepreneur’s request for funding.”

When looking at the F&B industry overall, what are your hopes for the future?

“More female-founded startups in F&B that are raising big rounds. More purpose-driven food brands that provide products that are better for the planet and human health. More challengers that actually shake up the industry and move both consumers and corporates in the space towards better habits – and of course, that they will get funded by Five Seasons Ventures! 

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TAGS: Startups
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