We will continue setting important trends

In an interview, High-Tech Gründerfonds’ (HTGF) new Managing Director Guido Schlitzer talks about the first-ever Family Day held exclusively online, what the future holds for HTGF, and why sometimes you just have to give things a go.

How was the first-ever Family Day held exclusively online?

Guido Schlitzer: It was fantastic! The special thing about Family Day is that we’re able to bring together people who would have otherwise never met. We had wondered whether this interpersonal aspect would get lost along the way for this digital event. But it turned out to be a great success. And even once this crisis is over, we want to make better use of synergies between events held online and those in person in order to establish more effective links between our portfolio companies, start-ups, fund investors and industry partners.

Most participants in the Family Day survey reported that there was a positive mood within their companies. What’s your take on this?

Guido Schlitzer: We obviously have companies in our portfolio who have concerns and whose revenues are falling. And nobody can really say how and when things will get going again. Another issue concerning many companies right now is how private investors will act in the next few months and how foreign investors will react. In terms of financing growth in Germany, we are obviously still very reliant on foreign investment. But foreign investors will now focus more on their domestic markets in many cases.

After 15 years at HTGF, 2.5 of which as CFO, you’ve now taken on a new role as Managing Director during these difficult times. What drew you to this new challenge?

Guido Schlitzer: I can only echo the words of my Co-Managing Director, Alex von Frankenberg, spoken at Family Day: Opportunity eats the world – and I now look forward to the opportunity of taking on even more responsibility at HTGF and am grateful for the trust placed in me. In my role as CFO, I’ve been able to help shape the direction of the company. At HTGF, we see the need and opportunity to keep on setting new trends. We want to build on the successes the company has already achieved. This is important both for us and our industry. We’re already doing some great work and our fund investors are more than happy. But we don’t just want to rest on our laurels. You have to keep reinventing yourself, stay on the ball, and even in a large team – HTGF has grown significantly in the last few years – try and maintain a certain start-up spirit. All these aspects will be a driving factor in my new role.

You just spoke about necessities and opportunities for HTGF. What did you mean exactly?

Guido Schlitzer: Necessities have obviously arisen due to the coronavirus crisis, which has caught us – and many of our portfolio companies – off guard. We managed to raise €400 million in external capital for our portfolio last year. This figure will likely be much more modest this year. We will, unfortunately, see cutbacks in our portfolio; after all, the whole start-up ecosystem has been affected. State measures will hopefully provide some support. And at HTGF, we will certainly be helping to stabilise the ecosystem. For one thing, we will carry on investing.

Are these the opportunities you spoke of?

Guido Schlitzer: Yes. This is the advantage of being a public–private partnership. In contrast to private investors, many of whom will initially take a step back due to the current uncertainty, we aspire to keep on investing both in good and bad times. This is something we do, and we will in no way deviate from our current course of action for this year. Our stated aim is also to cast an even closer eye on where there are gaps in the current system and wherever existing venture capital is insufficient – be this in terms of financing growth or a lack of IPOs. I see clear opportunities for HTGF to get more involved in this respect.

How do you want to achieve this?

Guido Schlitzer: We have many years of experience, broad expertise across our excellent team and a unique network. We also help to bring our portfolio companies into conversation with representatives from industry and the economy. And we’re always looking at where there is potential for good synergies, targeting link-ups between our start-ups and our fund investors in order to create new momentum. This is extremely important if you want to stay relevant as a company. Even before the crisis, most companies had come to understand that innovation is the key to being successful in the future. But this isn’t something that’s just going to fall into your lap – you have to actively do something about it.

Could this crisis lead to an innovation drive?

Guido Schlitzer: Yes, for sure. The crisis will, of course, hit us hard and I don’t think we’ll come off as lightly as we did in 2008. After the financial crisis, we saw an immediate upturn and things just went uphill from there. This time it will be more difficult to get back on to the straight and narrow with regard to the economy as a whole. But I’m convinced that the crisis can act as a catalyst in many cases. At least now everyone’s aware that it’s time to get to grips with and start investing in future technologies – and it’s time to do so now and not later.

Thank you for your time, Guido!

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