26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Robert Günther and Paolo Bavaj, co-heads of corporate venturing, Henkel Ventures

Robert Günther heads Henkel Ventures, Germany-based adhesives, cosmetics and laundry care product manufacturer Henkel’s corporate venture capital (CVC) arm, from the finance side, while Paolo Bavaj acts as a corporate director and is a member of Henkel Adhesive Technologies’ innovation executive committee.

Henkel hired Günther in 2015 for its mergers and acquisitions (M&A) department which involved him managing buy-side and sell-side projects. He has been overseeing Henkel Ventures’ investment activities since 2016.

Bavaj initially joined the Adhesive Technologies division in late 2010 as head of strategy and business development before ascending to lead new business development in 2013. He took up his current position ahead of the unit’s official launch in early 2017.

Although Henkel made its first startup investment in March 2014, it only announced in November 2016 that it was committed to investing €150m ($170m) in startups and venture capital funds.

The unit targets series A and B deals across 3D printing, printed electronics, batteries, thermal management, smart building materials, functional coatings, smart packaging and sustainable solutions, direct-to-consumer platforms, the internet of things, smart packaging, influencer brands, new materials and ingredients, and personalised offers.

Bavaj said: “Henkel Ventures is aiming to strengthen and expand our core business. We are investing in material science-based topics such as 3D printing and functional surfaces, for example.”

Henkel’s research and development (R&D) arm is mirroring the corporate’s main businesses and does not necessarily have the ability to develop new technologies, according to Bavaj, who added: “In order to achieve innovation, we need to get expertise and capabilities outside the organisation. Engaging with startup companies is part of our broader open innovation concept.”

Henkel Ventures has made more than 20 investments in the past four years. Its most recent exit took place in February 2020 – marketing and business development group Inc & Co purchased UK-based on-demand laundry service Laundrapp for an undisclosed sum, following Laundrapp’s merger with another portfolio company, Germany-based peer Zipjet, eight months before.

Günther said he aims to push Henkel Ventures’ CVC activities to the next level by adding measurable value to startups and be recognised as one of the partners of choice in the VC ecosystem. The Henkel Ventures team will partner entrepreneurs in the material science and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) sector globally to reach the next level through partnerships at eye level.

Günther holds a PhD in management, accounting and finance from University of St Gallen. He started his career in investment banking focusing on equity capital market, initial public offerings, share placements, capital increases and M&A transactions. After that, he worked at a Switzerland-based family office for three years where he managed early-stage investments in the European VC space with a concentration on circular economy, life sciences and industrial tech.

Bavaj, on the other hand, received his PhD in chemical engineering at RWTH Aachen and shortly after joined Celanese Chemicals in 1996, where he worked in operations, new business development and led then a global R&D and new business development team, gained experience as area sales manager in the US, and ran the Celanese emulsions textile and engineered fabrics business in Europe as well as its global glass fibre business.

GCV Powerlist 2020 PDF