Q&A with Harrie Vollaard, managing director, Rabo Frontier Ventures

Bart Leurs, chief innovation and technology officer and member of the managing board of Ntherlands-headquartered financial services firm Rabobank, stated: “Game changers in the fintech and agtech spaces are showing us pieces of the puzzle of how a sustainable banking model for Rabobank could potentially look like. That is why we are so eager to work with start and scale-ups and is corporate venturing an important part of our innovation strategy.”

Martijn Scholtes, chief financial officer of the bank’s corporate venturing unit Rabo Frontier Ventures (RFV), said of the unit’s managing director Harrie Vollaard: “Harrie has been leading Rabo Frontier Ventures for four years now. He has been instrumental in putting corporate venturing on the strategic agenda of Rabobank in their search for new scalable business models and future income streams for the bank.

“Under his leadership, RFV transformed into a highly professional CVC outfit and managed to build an outstanding strategic investment portfolio of leading fintech and agtech companies and multiple fund investments around the globe. Harrie has shown true grid and leadership in navigating Rabobank’s CVC unit through all the complexities and dynamics of an international bank.”

Jeroen van Doornik, managing partner of Rabo Frontier Ventures, added: “Fintech and agtech are rapidly changing with new players entering the market at incredible speed. Being part of this change is important to understand on a detailed level what the (value) drivers are. At RFV, headed by Harrie Vollaard, we are part of this change and provide valuable insights for Rabobank’s innovation agenda.”

Selected portfolio companies:

Tide: fastest-growing SME challenger bank in the UK. Potential economic return: >20% IRR, strategic return potential new revenue stream Rabobank, Potential additional revenue in payment transaction volume, deposits and loan book.

SurePay: spin-out from Rabobank. Currently, all banks in the Netherlands are using their service; IBAN-namecheck and a significant footprint in the UK. Potential economic return: >15% IRR, strategic return Rabobank launching customer of new services of SurePay.

AgroStar: biggest food and agri e-commerce platform in India. Potential economic return: >15-20% IRR, strategic return Rabobank large customer base of smallholder farmers and potential new revenue stream Rabobank

Shardul Sheth, founder and CEO Agrostar, commented: “RFV and the team have been fantastic partners in our growth journey at AgroStar. They take the time to engage with us meaningfully to discuss and debate business strategies and are always ready to help in any way they can.  They have a fantastic team with experience in running digital businesses which have been helpful in us scaling our mobile and digital business as well. The last year with covid has been quite challenging for our business as well and the Rabo team has strongly supported and backed us through this difficult phase. They are big believers in our business and we are fortunate to have them as our partners!”

JoinData CEO Sener Celik also said: “Besides being an important and strategic investor in JoinData, RFV is a true partner of JoinData. With their vast experience in the agtech and fintech sectors, they deliver valuable insights and expertise, which has been of tremendous value for JoinData.  The RFV Team is highly skilled, experienced and dedicated to supporting JoinData in achieving our long-term ambitions. We are very thankful to have a true partner like RFV supporting us in our journey.”

Number of investments you have made in the past year:

  • 4 new deals were closed: Candis, WeFarm, Ageras, SurePay
  • 5 new fund deals were closed Seedcamp, Valar, Greyhound, SpeedInvest, Northzone

Number of collaboration engagements with your portfolio companies:

  • Peaks – social media channels Rabobank, endorsement German market
  • Tellow – marketing and integrated offering
  • Candis – market validation and endorsement Dutch market
  • ProducePay – expansion into Latin America
  • JoinData – working on shared use cases
  • AgroStar – data-analytics capability, insights on credit modelling

Any contribution to the CVC or VC ecosystem you would like to highlight:

  • Active in GCV forum discussions and conferences, particularly on agtech
  • Board member of Holland FinTech
  • On panel conferences around the globe

Team member in GCV Rising Stars, Emerging Leaders and other awards:

  • Jeroen van Doornik, GCV Rising Stars 2021

Team expansion and recent promotions:

  • Venture partners (to strengthen the relationship with corporate and portfolio companies): Bas van Vugt and Albert Bokma.

Plans for the year ahead:

  • 10 new investments
  • Expanding team
  • Framework for strategic return
  • Being recognised as a respectful investor in the agtech and fintech space
  • Fund extension

Pain points and opportunities you have encountered in corporate venturing:

Opportunity: Leveraging Rabobank in deal assessment and later on in the portfolio management phase is a strong asset.

  • Access to experts internally who can help assess the deal.
  • Access to the network, customer, delivery channels and make use of the brand and piggyback on the reputation of Rabobank.

Under promise and overdeliver. In order to leverage the assets of Rabobank towards your portfolio companies successfully, you need to have the basics right. Having venture partners in the CVC team and an alliance team which sits in the company can help to bridge the gap between corporate and startup.

What do you think all corporations and CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

Strategic return and economic return go hand in hand. There is no trade-off between these two.

Learn from best practices and from other successful CVC. Too many times CVCs are falling into the same pitfalls and looks like to walk down the path and find eventually what the best way is instead of kicking it off right from the start with the right model.

For colour, what did you do prior to your venture role or in your spare time?

In my spare time, I am a(n) (in)frequent paraglider and piano player.

I have a background in biochemistry. Switched to the IT industry and had the opportunity to set up and run the innovation department at Rabobank. I was able to set up several ventures, established many partnerships and build out a venture building program which led to several spin-offs. Four years ago, I started RFV.

Edison Fu

Edison Fu is a reporter and Asia liaison at Global Corporate Venturing.