Q&A with Robert Guenther, head of corporate venturing, Henkel Tech Ventures

Robert Günther heads Henkel Tech Ventures, Germany-based adhesives, cosmetics and laundry care product manufacturer Henkel’s corporate venture capital (CVC) arm, from the finance side.

1. Any highlights from the past year?

We acquired one of our laundry services startups we previously had been an investor in and joint development agreements with several material science startups.

2. What are the plans for the year ahead?

Bringing the corporate venture capital activities to the next level by adding true measurable value to startups and being recognised as one of the partners-of-choice in the venture capital ecosystem;

Pairing up with the most promising startups in the material science and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) space worldwide and together reach the next level through a partnership on eye level.

3. Could you mention some milestones achieved at your unit so far?

Structuring and setting-up Henkel Ventures activities with a commitment of €150m including sourcing, screening, assessment and investment processes as well as organising post-deal management and structuring of the portfolio management;

Responsible for execution of more than 20 direct VC investments globally and across different industries during the last four years;

Active portfolio management with exits.

4. Please mention some pain points and opportunities you have encountered in corporate venturing.

Not-invented-here syndrome and convince internal colleagues of new ideas;

Bad news comes first – internal alignment and expectations management is core for the success of a CVC unit;

Change the attitude of the organisation towards risk talking and different KPI measures for success;

Strategic value needs to be measurable otherwise it is seen from the organisation as an excuse to burn money;

The continuity of the team is core for the CVC unit as personal experience and network are crucial for a successful venture capitalist;

Installing corporate high potential in CVC positions and keeping them there as a career booster for the next two years will not be sustainable in the long run.

5. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

Build on the trustful relationships in the industry and further broaden the exchange among CVCs;

Be reasonable when you interact with startups – on terms: do not ask for things in the term sheets that would scare away financial investors in coming rounds;

Try to not distract the startup from their vision by bonding it to close to the corporate – offer support (pull from startup) and avoid to provide too much guidance (push from the corporate).

6. For colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

I have my educational background in finance. I hold a PhD in management from the University of St Gallen and graduated from HHL – Leipzig Graduate School of Management in Business Administration.

I started my career in investment banking working on the equity capital market side being responsible for the execution of IPOs, share placements, and capital increases as well as M&A transactions.

Thereafter I worked three years for a Swiss family office where my role included managing early-stage investment opportunities in the European VC space with a focus on the circular economy, life science, and industrial tech.

Since 2015 I am with Henkel where I started in the M&A department and since 2016 I am heading the corporate venturing activities from the finance side.

My interests include modern art (exchange with contemporary artists), travelling (interest in landscape and travel photography), mountains (mountaineering in the summer and skiing during the winter) and tennis (competitive but for joy).