Every startup needs a Rockstart: A founder-first focus with a mission to change the world for the better

The people who work at Rockstart have one thing in common: They believe in the mission of the company. The company carries out the mission to support the transformation to a more regenerative and sustainable future by empowering founders to drive positive change at a global scale. Rockstart is an international company that empowers the best startups on their way to success across three domains: AgriFood, Energy, and Emerging Technologies. Roy de Weerd, Strategic Partnerships Director at Rockstart, offered insight into the founder-focused and tailor-made approach that sets Rockstart apart from other startup investors.

Despite a background in sports and management, Roy was attracted to Rockstart by his personal motivation to work for an impact-led company. After joining as Head of Spaces in 2018, he became Director of Strategic Partnerships in 2021. In this current role, Roy is responsible for extending Rockstart’s corporate network in each of the company’s three domains.
Rockstart is not the new kid on the block. Rockstart is an accelerator-VC that runs in-house programs and since the company was founded in 2011, it has helped numerous startups through early-stage investments. Rockstart sees great value in the collaboration between startups and corporates, making them the perfect partner for the New Energy Challenge, due to their aligned mission to empower founders to drive positive change.

Rockstart has been a partner of the New Energy Challenge (NEC) since 2017 and within the Challenge, Rockstart offers a tailor-made support programme. Following a one-on-one “needs assessment” of all the finalists, Rockstart matches each startup with corresponding mentors. After this matchmaking phase, Rockstart builds individualized curriculums of their program, tailored to the specific needs of the startup. Two sessions that often recur in the programs are the pitch workshop and the one-on-one coaching. Each startup benefits from personalized coaching sessions with Rockstart’s pitch coach, providing them with the chance to refine and rehearse their pitch for the upcoming finals event before the actual presentation.

Startups & corporates: a knife that cuts both ways

According to Roy, the collaboration between startups and corporations is a valuable relationship for both parties. For startups, access to the market and to the expertise of the corporation is critical. Many startups already have a good idea and a minimum viable product, but the opportunity of testing their idea within a bigger pilot, alongside a big corporation with a lot of expertise, promises invaluable benefits for them.

Roy emphasizes that the relationship cuts both ways; corporations acquire deeper insights from working with startups, and looking at the current corporate landscape, corporations must keep innovating to stay alive and stay ahead of the curve. The agile nature of startups and the innovative solutions that they offer make the startup ecosystem a good objective for corporations to get ahead of the curve as well.

What Roy enjoys most about working with startups is the development of the future while making a positive impact on the world. By making the ecosystem more regenerative and sustainable, they are able to solve many challenges the world is facing. Roy underscores the inspiration that comes from working with these founders, “they are very brave people who are standing up and making changes”.

Challenges as opportunities for growth

The transition to a more regenerative energy sector does not come without challenges. By investing in energy companies, Rockstart has identified a couple of investment themes where there are opportunities for growth. First, Rockstart is looking at asset life exchange extension and circularity. This has become more urgent due to the scarcity of minerals and metals, and the geopolitical tensions that are affecting the availability of this material.

Secondly, Roy mentions installation and service efficiency. The current shortage of technicians who are able to install solar panels, EV chargers, or high voltage lines can slow down processes of installation and service. Any technology that can help reduce the required amount of labour will effectively speed up the energy transition.

Long-duration storage can also be seen as a high-potential investment opportunity for Rockstart. Extended-duration energy storage could stabilise the grid and reduce the energy market volatility. Additionally, it avoids infrastructure upgrades that otherwise would be required given the ever-increasing share of intermittent renewables.

Lastly, Roy mentions climate risk mitigation. “We all know the world is heating up and the newspapers are filled with extreme weather event headlines,” Roy adds. “Climate risk is becoming more apparent.” By supporting governments or companies in making well-informed decisions, Rockstart hopes to aid in the privatisation of sustainable solutions.

Advice for startups

The advice Roy gives to startups is twofold: In the current market Roy advises startups to make sure to have a viable business model so they can break even as soon as possible.
Secondly, he emphasizes the importance of ESG in the selection process. ESG is currently on the forefront of Rockstart’s selection process, so Roy recommends showcasing the ESG-impact of your startup as fast as possible.

Roy highlights, “a great example of a startup that showcases these two tips is CarbonSpace”.

This company, which was one of the winners of NEC 2022, is developing a satellite-powered platform that offers an accurate and cost-effective tool for remote tracking of emissions and sequestrations in the land sector. By providing an accurate and cost-effective MRV tool to carbon markets, CarbonSpace aims at bringing a new level of transparency in the supply chains of food and lumber industries, as well as unleashing the potential of nature-based carbon removal projects.

In the thriving and ever-evolving world of energy innovation, companies such as Rockstart offer startups exactly what they need to develop and professionalize their ideas. With a founder-first view and experienced guidance, they encourage startups to engage in a collaboration with corporates, so that both parties can learn from each other.

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