26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Paolo Bavaj, Henkel Ventures

Paolo Bavaj, a GCV Rising Stars and Powerlist awards recipient last year, heads Henkel Ventures, the corporate venturing unit of Henkel Adhesive Technologies.

Bavaj initially joined Henkel Adhesive Technologies, a business unit of Germany-based industrial and consumer product manufacturer Henkel, in December 2010 as a corporate director of strategy and business development, before he was promoted in April 2013 to head of new business development to identify and evaluate innovation opportunities through strategic foresight management, scouting, startup screening, venturing and incubation.

Eventually, Bavaj took up his current post slightly ahead of the unit’s official launch in early 2017. Although Henkel made its first startup investment in March 2014, it only publicly communicated in November 2016 that it was committed to investing €150m ($170m) until the end of 2020 into startups and VC funds.

Michael Todd, corporate vice-president and global head of innovation at Henkel Adhesive Technologies, said: “Corporate venture capital is a very important tool for Henkel Adhesive Technologies to access new markets and onboard new technologies. Paolo combines operational excellence with an entrepreneurial mindset to identify and unlock new business opportunities for Henkel.

“His ability to find new market opportunities, develop new business models, partner with the entrepreneurial ecosystem has made Henkel stronger. Under his leadership Henkel Adhesive Technologies is developing a balanced portfolio of fund investments, direct startup investments and strategic partnerships that are opening up significant new growth opportunities for Henkel.”

The unit’s stellar team has produced another GCV Rising Star this year – Robert Günther, who heads the corporate venturing activities from the finance side. Bavaj said: “We are constantly expanding the team – now being eight members – taking in outside perspectives in other to continuously improving the quality of my team. We also had one promotion recently in the team.

“Maybe a worthwhile aspect to note is also that we are consciously moving people from my team to our operating business in order to emphasise and develop an entrepreneurial mindset throughout the organisation.”

The unit actively partners portfolio companies. “Our aim is to create and develop a Henkel business based on a technology from a startup. We are running currently over 50 startup collaborations in order to make this happen. Very recently, we agreed with a startup in Boston to sell their anti-fingerprint coatings leveraging our market penetration, our developed customer base, our technical service capabilities and our global footprint. With another startup, we are working on the same model for interior trim coatings for the automotive industry.”

Bavaj also engages with the VC community by participating in conferences and associations. “We developed together with a financial VC a very high-sophisticated tool for actively managing our startup portfolio and deriving generic strategies and roadmaps for each of our portfolio companies. I talk very often publicly at conferences and associations about thought leader topics. I also organise external public events, like the European Chemistry Partnering Summer Summit at Henkel, the Pitch Party at Henkel as well as the Innovation Roundtable at Henkel. I am also contributing through PhD interview to further research about interesting VC topics.

Henkel Ventures participated in nine direct investments in five startups and four investments in four VC funds last year, totalling €80m ($91m) of investment on behalf of Henkel Adhesive Technologies. To date, Henkel has invested in nine VC funds and eight startups.

Its portfolio companies include Israel-based conductive copper inks producer Copprint and US-based advanced materials startup NBD Nanotechnologies, regarding which Bavaj said the unit “could link the investment strongly with the operating business”.

After his PhD in chemical engineering at RWTH Aachen, Germany, Bavaj joined Celanese Chemicals in 1996, where he worked in operations, new business development and led then a global research and development (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.