We had an interesting discussion with William Assenmacher, Investment Associate at Lab-Box, a Startup Studio and investment vehicle focusing on new mobility based in Brussels, Belgium. He shared valuable insights into their journey and vision.
Our vision is to keep improving the mobility of people and goods in a scalable & sizeable way, using Belgium as a test market and Europe as its playground. We do this by partnering with the brightest talents in the tech- and business area.
Lab-Box is a new member of our vast community; let’s introduce you to this new reality.
How did you start your studio?
Lab Box was created in 2017 by D’Ieteren Automotive, the long-time importer and exclusive dealer of Volkswagen’s brands in Belgium, controlling almost 23% of the local market. The objective behind Lab Box was to improve the mobility of people and goods in a scalable & sizeable way by investing in new mobility solutions.
While Lab Box was originally a business unit of D’Ieteren Automotive, the team quickly decided to create a separate and autonomous entity to offer startups the freedom to evolve in any direction, independently of potential conflicts of interest with the core activities of the Group. Looking backward, this was a strategic decision as Lab Box currently works in total autonomy for the best interest of the portfolio startups, which ultimately benefits its shareholders.
Why a startup studio? What are your thoughts on the studio model?
In our case, the Startup Studio appeared to be the best model (vs. standard CVC fund, incubator, corporate innovation BU,...) for several reasons, including (i) the ability to leverage assets from the Group while keeping independence (“best of both worlds”), (ii) higher ROI expectations and (iii) a simplified way to integrate our portfolio startups into the Group’s core business as we have now 2 main long-term options for our startups: integration/exit to the Group or exit to an external investor (depending on strategic fit).
What were your biggest challenges in creating your studio and how did you or are you overcoming them?
1. Getting recognition/reputation from the external world knowing that corporate activities are generally not extremely popular towards startups. This reputation helps for talent & superficial capital attraction; hence it is critical for a startup studio. Being focused on a single vertical helps to get this recognition progressively.
2. Being linked to a corporate, managing the usual tension between the corporate and the startup world was non-accessible and always remains a point of attention. There is no secret miracle here besides the need to “iterate” and keep a firm “in-between layer” between the corporate and the startups.
How does your startup studio find the right team for your studio and your portfolio companies?
Recruitment is a crucial part of studio activity, and we invest significant time and effort to attract and hire suitable profiles. Our reputation is our biggest asset, therefore. We have also developed a framework, which standardized the whole recruitment process of every team member.
The framework is based mainly on the book “Who” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, which we highly recommend reading (if not done yet).
What have you learned in developing your startup studio that you wish you knew before you started?
1. It's a classic, but at the start, we did not “bootstrap” enough our startups since we were having a good amount of funding from our corporate investor. Now, we are a lot more strict on getting proven market traction/commercial metrics before providing additional funding to the startups.
2. Initially, our cap table strategy wasn’t clear (actually in the very early days, our corporate investor did not want us to open the cap table to management). We now have a much clearer cap table strategy which is known from the co-founders from day 1 they join the project.
How does your startup studio develop new ideas for potential companies? And how do you select the best ideas to focus on?
At Lab Box, we don’t develop new ventures for other companies; we focus on identifying market needs in mobility that we tackle with innovative and digital solutions. Every idea is challenged through an iterative process, starting within the core team of Lab Box and then with the different stakeholders of our ecosystem.
Once the concept has been selected and starts to materialize, we hire a team that will manage the venture. We strongly encourage them to constantly challenge the status quo and support them in developing new innovative ideas.
How does your startup studio find funding and investment?
Lab Box is a Corporate Startup Studio and is therefore exclusively funded by its shareholder, D’Ieteren Automotive. Lab Box finances all portfolio companies in the early stages, and some will raise external funding, depending on their financial and strategic needs.
What startups are in your portfolio now, and what startups do you have in the works?
After less than 5 years of operations, Lab Box has a portfolio of 10 start-ups:
1. Poppy: A shared mobility company created in January 2018 that is active in 2 cities with a fleet of 750 eco-friendly cars, 400 e-scooters, and 200 e-steps.
2. SKIPR: An all-in-one MaaS platform for managing corporate mobility removing all administrative burdens to implement a flexible and sustainable mobility policy within companies.
3. Lizy: A Digital Leasing Company disrupting its market by offering SMEs and entrepreneurs easy and affordable leasing solutions.
4. MyMove: A SaaS to facilitate innovative, green, and flexible corporate mobility solutions with features to locate quickly, book, and unlock a fleet of vehicles.
5. Mbrella: A SaaS helping employers bring flexible mobility solutions to their employees by removing all administrative burdens.
6. EDI: A leading provider of intelligent EV charging solutions.
7. HUSK: A platform offering customized professional transportation services.
8. USH: Belgium's first dedicated autonomous shared mobility provider.
9. Mob Box: Data science company helping companies understand and add value to their mobility data.
10. Mobvious: On-demand drivers platform offering jockey services to car dealerships or fleet managers.
What is your vision for your startup studio, and how do you see your studio developing in the future?
Our mission is to help citizens improve people and goods’ mobility in a scalable and sizable way. We are reaching this goal by creating great start-ups that constantly challenge the current mobility practices with innovative and digital solutions.
Going forward, we are willing to pursue this mission and create an ecosystem of successful companies that will continuously disrupt the mobility industry.