"I believe Alkemio can make a huge impact on our society"
This spring Alkemio was happy to welcome Merijn Zondag to the team. His focus is on the sustainability of the foundation, ensuring that sufficient resources are available to realize the vision. Merijn brings a huge amount of experience, especially around the venture financing – and has also himself been an entrepreneur in various start-ups and scale-ups. He enjoys working on projects which can make an impact on a small or a big, global scale.
“What does excite me is the opportunity of building the communities and networks and creating all the services to help these communities to be successful in achieving their goals."
You started in the financial sector where you built a successful career. What made you leave?
Yes, I was in corporate finance, corporate banking, and corporate investing. For 10 years, I led a 30-person finance team located in Europe, Asia, and the USA responsible for all direct, proprietary investments in the transportation and energy sectors, building a portfolio of USD 3.5BB in debt and equity investments. Interesting, profitable (140M net profit) and lots of fun as well. This ended when Fortis Bank was partly acquired by the Dutch government. A good time to move on.
How come you opted to move towards start-ups?
It came by chance. I got involved with a start-up as an advisor and later as an investor and CFO. This led to further engagements; first as Investment Director at the incubator YES!Delft, followed by becoming Director of PortXL, a global maritime innovation hub based in Rotterdam. Later I worked as Fund Manager investing in start-ups in the energy sector and was involved in arranging the governmental lending facilities for start/scale-ups during the Covid-19 crisis.
And then came Alkemio. How did you get involved?
Well, I first took six months off to manage a couple of personal projects and train for an Ironman. Then I ran into Neil [Smyth] with whom I worked at YES!Delft. He told me about Alkemio and it instantly appealed to me. It is a tech-for-good company that can have a huge global impact if successful. With Neil, René [Honig], and Valentin [Yanakiev] I knew that Alkemio would be professionally built right from the start; and I believed that I could bring complementary experience and skills to the table as well.
What was so appealing to you?
For me, it is always a combination of a number of things. First and foremost it is essential that you like the people you work with. Then I need to be able to see the big picture – where can and will we be over time if we are successful. What value do we bring, what impact can we make and at what scale, and how can the organization develop. What opportunities will it bring to its users, partners, and other stakeholders; as well as to the team. So that we can develop and have meaningful roles in the future. Finally, I need to be certain that I can add value to the project, now and ideally also over time.
What makes you certain Alkemio has what it takes to succeed?
Well first of all: 100% certainty is impossible. But what you can do is to create the best (pre)conditions to benefit from the opportunities and circumstances that will arise. We have a couple of essential items pretty well covered, but still need to work on quite a few others. Alkemio is building a very solid technical foundation that can scale, but Alkemio also needs to work on creating more awareness about what it can bring to users and society. This to further develop its partner and customer base and create traction and network effect. Alkemio is a bit too modest in a way with a strong emphasis on content and very different from start-ups that follow the “fake it till you make it” strategy.
What phase are you in at the moment? How are you standing with investors?
Since Alkemio is a purpose driven impact tech-for-good venture, we fit in many boxes: SaaS VC, Impact Venturing, Philanthropic Backers/Angels etc. Now we’re at a stage when we can go out to the market and see how our story will resonate within the investment community. Hopefully, they will recognize the value Alkemio can bring, what impact can it make and at what scale, and how the organization can develop. What opportunities it will bring to its users, partners, and other stakeholders, as well as to the team. If I may add, we are keen to get in touch or to receive suggestions on investors or organizations to reach out to. Anyone who find our mission inspiring and wants to collaborate, is always welcome to knock on my door.
How do you see the future of Alkemio?
What does excite me is the opportunity of building the communities and networks and creating all the services to help these communities to be successful in achieving their goals. And to do this on a scale that has a major impact. This can be for either many groups of users by dealing with their day-to-day challenges but also for our society as a whole in a very impactful way for our massive and super complicated challenges.
The way to go from A to Z is to have many individual users, communities, companies, organizations, governments, etc. that want to cooperate, contribute and stay involved through Alkemio by putting the challenge central and not their individual interests. As an economist, I know that this can feel counterintuitive, but I strongly believe we need to change this behaviour to enable our society to have a meaningful and lasting future.