Investing in Start-ups

Christian Winkler graduated from CEMS in 2007, having studied at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University as his home school and Vienna University of Economics and Business as his host school. Winkler is a financial services professional with more than eight years of experience with Credit Suisse AG, spanning two years in Digital Banking and investment advisory digitization, four years in wealth management with a focus on the Latin American market, and more than two years in corporate strategy and M&A.

Together with Benedikt Kronberger and Frank Appeldorn he recently joined the board of the CEMS Global M&A, VC and PE Alumni Group. Christian Winkler joined the venture capital firm b-to-v Partners AG in 2016 as an investment manager in the advisory team and shares his experience on investing in start-ups, co-investments and Corporates VCs.
Christian Winkler

1. How did your CEMS experience shape your career path? Were there any specific moments that you recall that really changed your focus or gave you an aha moment?

CEMS helped me to find lifelong friends, I learned languages, I gained experiences and always have a homecoming feeling in multiple circles and cities. In every firm/ team I have worked for/ on, I come across CEMS alumni. This is unique. Even if we have not met before, we share a common ground and vision. This is my ever recurring aha moment.

2. Did you always know you wanted to go into investment banking? How did you choose this path?

The intersection between the corporate world and private investors always fascinated me; in hindsight, it is no surprise that venture capital fits me very well. I began by gathering my own experiences in the startup world. Thereafter, I explored the corporate world. Ultimately bringing together corporates, private wealth and their respective expertise is the cornerstone of venture capital and it is exciting work.

My path started at the Credit Suisse Group and I had the chance to work in four different countries. First, I worked in Corporate strategy / M&A in the Headquarter then in Wealth Management and Family Office advisory for the Latin American Market and then finally in Digital Banking and investment advisory with a focus on Asia and the home market. Today I am a Principal at btov Partners AG, a leading Venture capital firm in Europe and private investors network.

3. Was there a specific moment that launched your decision to change from a corporate to a start-up?

At the Credit Suisse Group, I learned that the success of individuals is often connected to their own start-ups, real estate, and venture investments. It is evident that these are some topics that build and support innovations. It is inspiring to see how certain individuals navigated their paths. During my banking career, I always had to network within the venture and VC universe, e.g. at CEMS alumni and corporate events.

Through my banking career and during my start-up experiences, I learned to work with entrepreneurial clients which then again helped me to make the next step to work for a leading venture capital firm and private investor network.

The venture capital world offers a unique chance, to invest with exciting investors in exceptional and innovative ventures. This requires continuous learning and cooperation between investors and brains, which motivates me every day.

4. What do you hope to achieve in your new role? Do you incorporate sustainable selection into your investment strategy?

I am convinced curiosity and the radically open mind are among the most effective human motivators. I believe curiosity motivates entrepreneurs to find new ways in their endeavors and guides their decision-making on their journey. In rough times, too, curious businesspeople are more likely to explore new paths and find original solutions. At btov, I can invest in the curiosity of our partners – and thereby make a living with my own curiosity. At the end of the day, for me, CEMS is a community of curious business people who aim to make a difference.

At btov, we receive about 3 000 investment opportunities each year with a focus on the DACH region. To manage this amount of pitch decks, we apply eight points in our screening and selection of about 100 promising ventures and then we invest in 15 to 30 ventures per year (46 in 2016). In our screening process, we look at the 1) executive summary 2) team 3) product & service 4) market & competition 5) business model 6) financials (past, actuals, plan) 7) investment structure 8) roadmap (founders & investors). For all eight points, we look at rational and emotional aspects. For example, regarding the team assessment: on the one hand, there are “rational aspects” such as know-how, targets, motivation and the skillsets of the team members, on the other hand there are “emotional aspects” such as stomach feeling, knowledge of human nature, performance of the team and atmosphere within the team.

This screening approach sounds systematic and a bit robotic, yet it is evident there is no absolute truth. For example, one day a certain team may be not harmonic, not competent, and insecure. The next day, with more sleep, sunlight and a better mood, the same founder team presents more competently and receives lucrative investment offers. This humility and expectation of different truths is central not only in the venture capital world and indeed seems to me to be a common trait across all CEMS alumni and students I have met.

5. Do you have any plans to come back to your CEMS roots to invest in start-ups, for example with the CEMS Start-up Challenge or other projects?

Together with my colleague Benedikt Kronberger and Frank Appeldorn I recently joined the board of the CEMS Global M&A/ VC and PE Group.

Most certainly, we want to work together with the CEMS Start-up Challenge. Other degrees/universities have achieved entrepreneurial reputations. I want to help to make entrepreneurship more prominent at CEMS.

My vision is: mentor & support CEMS ventures and founders, host local screening and pitching events and then in a second step, expand on that model more globally. The top 10 ventures, locally selected, need to reach a global audience.

I am convinced CEMS has enormous power also regarding start-ups and supporting them adequately. There are heaps of untapped opportunities. Within CEMS and with the PE & VC team, I would like to focus on supporting ventures.

6. What career advice would you give to the recent graduating class of CEMS of 2016?

The first advice that comes to mind is “preparation, preparation and preparation.” Meetings with demanding clients require diligent preparation to generate added value for everyone at the table. Start-ups have the chance to prepare their funding round professionally and be informed about investor preferences.

My next advice is never to lose sight of the “the big picture.” This is important in the start-up environment, to have a look at the big picture and not get lost in the nitty gritty details. Of course, this is relevant in the strategy of a corporate as well, as I learned in my CEMS Business Projects too.

Thirdly, on the operational level, I am sure it is obligatory to “trust and have faith in your team members” - to concentrate on a specific task and still have a look at the big picture, it is helpful and mandatory to trust your team members.

Finally, it is key to be “be pithy & to the point” - being straightforward in written documents and in meetings with clients, internal and external, is key for start-ups, when communicating with VCs and business angels as well as with all other stakeholder of a firm. Nonetheless, storytelling is a helpful tool for motivating and preparing colleagues for certain challenges and to explain tasks.