You can have the best engineers and managers building the best products, but that won’t guarantee a healthy tech ecosystem. Nothing happens without capital.
Of course, there should be early risk capital available. But the Netherlands is unusual in that a bank is willing to come in early with seed loans, functioning almost as an angel investor.
With its Rabo Innovation Loan, Utrecht-based Rabobank is the rare bank anywhere that will lend to startups at reasonable rates and terms and without your having to put your house up for collateral. We’re talking substantial loans … from 25,000 euros to a maximum of 150,000 euros.
Michel Ziekman at the Rabobank office at HTC 9 on Campus is the only Rabobank loan executive who can lend you money. Naturally, he’s very popular, with 120 startups as clients.
Now, when it comes to raising capital, no one just casually hands out cash to startups. BUT, Michel says the process at Rabobank is faster and far less painful than you might expect. And repayment terms are designed to be reasonable for startups.
Let’s say you’ve come through one of the venture builders on campus – HighTechXL or LUMO Labs – reached all the milestones and completed the program but you still have no customers, revenue or even an MVP. And let’s say you could really use 100,000 euros or whatever to get to the next phase of growth.
How long does the Rabobank process take from the time you start the loan process?
The answer is, two months max, Michel said. But you have to negotiate initial in-person meetings with him, then pitch the bank loan committee just as you would to investors. The day after the pitch, you’ll know if you get the money, and, if your startup qualifies, the money is in your account within two weeks.
The best news – the loan is a loan and doesn’t dilute your equity stake.
(See the end of the post for Rabo Innovation Loan details.)
Michel also helps startups and scale-ups with client onboarding, networking and financing.
He calculates he’s done more than 70 loans in the region since 2018, with a goal of 20 deals per year. The Rabobank innovation program works in partnership with economic-development agencies such as BOM, Brabant Startup Funds and R&D institutions such as TNO. “And yeah, we try to reach the next step for startups. It's very important because we are the only big bank in the Netherlands that does this in the early stage and takes no equity,” Michel said.
Of course, Rabobank is a bank, not a charity. The purpose of the early stage loan program is to start relationships with future clients. Rabobank loan officers analyze the tech, the team and business model, Michel said. “What’s in it for Rabobank? When they scale up, what can we earn in the future?”
Michel relies on guidance from experts at BOM, Brainport Development and other economic development agencies: “We’re wrong sometimes. That’s part of the game. But most (loans) go fairly well.”
The only marketing for the loans is word-of-mouth and through The Gate at Technical University of Eindhoven. But since he’s in the startup business, Michel also has a direct connection to the R&D institutions spinning them out.
Some of the most successful Eindhoven startups, including Sendcloud, have received Rabobank Innovation Loans.
One of the startups he’s worked with is HighTechXL portfolio company Carbyon, which is in HTC 27. Carbyon came to Michel fairly early on because founder Hans de Neve is a former TNO executive and Rabobank has a long relationship with the Dutch research and development center.
In fact, Michel is the person who came up with the idea of lending to startups. When he started 15 years ago, his colleagues at Rabobank thought he was crazy, he says. Now, they see that he’s built a good business.
“The best compliment for me is when (clients) say, “you are not a banker.”
The loan has a term of seven years with a fixed annual interest rate of 10 percent (monthly payment) and consists of two inseparable loans, divided into two equal parts:
A loan that is interest-only for the first two years and is then repaid at 20 percent per year.
A loan that is interest-only during the entire seven-year period and must be paid off as a lump sum at the end of the term.
Rabobank has several innovation offices, including at High Tech Campus, TU/e and Brainport Industries Campus. Now, the catch … only Michel makes loans. The other Rabobank colleagues only do consulting.
Michel has been in his current location on HTCE for seven months. He has a walk-in day on Wednesdays. You can also make appointments by calling. “My name is Michel Ziekman … there’s only one in the world.”