Decoding Digital

Bringing Start-up Energy to Established Industries with Dr. Jeannette zu Fürstenberg

By Ideas @ AppDirect / July 6, 2021

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Dr. Jeannette zu Fürstenberg is the Founding Partner of La Famiglia, a Berlin-based venture capitalist fund connecting existing economy leaders with emerging digital disruptors.

The unique VC is sparking radical change by revolutionizing how traditional companies work with start-ups. To date, Jeanette and her team have raised over €100 million and invested in more than 40 companies – three of which are valued at more than $1 billion.

Jeanette’s impressive career includes entrepreneurial ventures as well as previous roles at Ernst & Young, Synthesis, and AXA. Her business understanding stems from her extensive academic background, most notably her Ph.D. in philosophy and entrepreneurship.

Jeanette sits down with Daniel Saks in this Decoding Digital episode to share how La Famiglia is combining industry giants with tech start-ups and why it benefits all business generations.

Hit play to listen to the podcast episode or read on to find out more.

Driving La Famiglia VC is Jeanette’s view of entrepreneurial vision “as a major cause of change.” She believes that seed-stage companies are a great indicator of what’s to come in the next three to five years. For Jeanette, being a venture capitalist means having some influence or ownership over what the future could look like.

Initially, La Famiglia set out to build bridges between B2B founders and industry partners to test product runs. But “time is money,” says Jeanette, and the VC quickly realized that these partnerships could drastically increase the speed at which products get put into motion, accelerating progress for both sides.

“The essence of our platform is to connect established industry and the start-up ecosystem and make sure we use the tailwinds. We can bet from both sides to make a dent in the change for what's possible in Europe.”

Connecting different entrepreneurial generations

On the surface, it may seem like established industry giants and tech start-ups should be strong rivals. But Jeanette believes that they have more in common than you might think. She suggests that on both sides, the businesses are run by entrepreneurs focused on growing their companies. When you then bring these entrepreneurs together, they unite over their desire for progress.

“It's really all about ideas, and it's all about progress, and it's all about change, then everybody opens up. And that's how you bring them closer together.”

Why Europe must adapt, or face business extinction

Jeanette saw a lot of potential for uniting these two generations in one particular market—Europe. Europe possesses a breadth of native, rich industries, but their knowledge is locked up because they have yet to make a shift into the digital age. The problem is that there are very few opportunities for the two sides to work together.

However, as digital transformation continues to touch every industry, Jeanette believes it’s crucial for their existence to become more digitally dynamic.

“Europe will only survive if we manage to shift the existing value creation […] I think the more those two generations of entrepreneurs intersect, and the more they actually cooperate, the stronger the outcome will be for Europe.”

How to overcome resistance to change

Jeanette's main issue while attempting to bring these two sides together is convincing them that the benefits outweigh the risks. The start-ups have everything to gain from a partnership like this, but the existing industries may feel apprehensive about welcoming disruption and subsequently damaging their success.

Five years ago, when La Famiglia first approached B2B companies, a common objection was that digital transformation was only applicable for B2C industries. Jeanette says that industry giants were yet to accept the idea that software would “eat the world.”

“Now, what we're seeing is that this is no longer even a question, right? It's not even a question of whether software's eating the world. It has eaten the world.”

Jeanette believes this resistance to change stems from the way companies have typically developed in post-war Europe. Market leaders formed in a decentralized way and since have been secretive about their systems and processes. Sharing their value creation by moving to a more open platform can be seen as a threat to the bread-and-butter way they do business.

So how does La Famiglia overcome this? Jeanette says the key is cultivating relationships and environments where people can share ideas freely. She believes that trust is the most important element, as both sides need to embrace more intimate conversations and ideas to establish an effective co-dependent partnership.

Why Europe is ripe for growth and opportunity

Europe is launching an increasing number of global leaders in many industries. Jeanette says this is because founders have strong educational backgrounds built in Europe and the US. They get a taste of building digital products, then return to Europe to utilize the comprehensive educational ecosystem.

Jeanette notes that this academic foundation is the first step in building technological infrastructure for any industry. The next is nurturing talent to develop specific process understanding and knowledge needed to build digital products within that industry.

The final stage is creating digital products. Jeanette points out that technological innovation isn’t necessarily the differentiator for the company, it’s an enabler.

“The differentiator really becomes that process know-how, and then you build it on top of the digital infrastructure. But that is more of the enabler, the building block, of what will make them successful.”

This three-step process is what Jeanette calls the “fundamental driver” for the European ecosystem for digital transformation. It’s also the process that La Famiglia is supporting as they encourage more established businesses to realize technological transformation with digital product development.

To hear more from Jeanette, including how technology is guiding us through a global renaissance, La Famiglia’s current investments, and further insights about digital innovations in the old economy, listen to the complete conversation with Daniel Saks on the Decoding Digital podcast.

Check out the Decoding Digital podcast series for more insights from inspirational thought leaders and digital innovators. You can listen to the podcast on all the major podcasting apps, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.