Tobias Neveling

Focus on the team: ISM graduate gives start-up tips from the investor perspective

New teams, new ideas, new start-ups every week – for ISM graduate Tobias Neveling entrepreneurial spirit is a core part of his job. After working in various start-ups and helping to build a company from scratch, he decided to move to the other side of the fence. As the Chief Investment Officer at the venture capital company Venista Ventures, he supports start-ups that are still in their infancy. In our interview, he explains what is essential and what founders should focus on, especially during the early stages.

Tobias, at Venista Ventures you support start-ups that are just getting off the ground. Besides financing, what else is very important?

The focus is always on the team and how we can best support them in their current situation. This obviously differs from team to team – sometimes you’re the mother or father, sometimes the sister or brother. We always try to create an environment in which the respective team can drive the product forward in the best possible way.

How can start-ups be assessed in the early stages? How can founders convince you?

It’s difficult to judge success based on figures alone. Even the product in its current form is not a decisive criterion for making decisions, as its development will be several steps further down the line in three months’ time. Two things are important for us: Team and market growth. The team because it’s the people who work together and breathe life into an idea. And market growth because we obviously look for ideas with a certain level of potential.

What is a lost cause from the start?

The email headline “Meet the next unicorn”. These emails usually go straight into my trash.

How important is the industry in which the start-ups want to get a foothold?

I don’t necessarily think in terms of individual industries, but rather look for teams that come up with comprehensive solutions. Super-niche fields don’t usually offer enough return potential. In Germany, I believe we should concentrate our efforts on where our strengths lie. For instance, the German start-up Arculus is currently reinventing assembly line work in the automotive sector through AI software and autonomous robots.

What is a common misconception in the early stages?

“I’ll develop my product and then see what the market says” – if you launch a start-up like that, you’ve already lost. It’s important to get feedback beforehand and to get involved in the actual development process. Further, it’s also always important to say: “Better done than perfect.” Founders shouldn’t get lost in all the details but remember to frequently test new versions of their product on the market – this is the only way to ensure your further development.

If you could give prospective founders one piece of advice, what would it be?

20. That’s the number of interviews business founders should conduct before starting out. It’s the only way to get a feel for the market and to see where actual problems exist. And it’s the only way to develop a product, not a feature.

The deadline for applications to the ISM Start-up Competition is getting closer. Why would you encourage young entrepreneurs to participate in such competitions?

I certainly wouldn’t recommend searching for and entering every start-up competition, but the same applies here, too: If you participate selectively in events, you’ll definitely get additional and different feedback on your own project. That’s usually more valuable than winning an award.


You are prospective founders? The Entrepreneurship Institute @ ISM is always happy to support you!


Interview: Laura Krause