Dr. Alexander Kostenko on finding a team and funding for start-ups

How do you create a team and find financial support when you launch a start-up? IXA talked to postdoctoral researcher and entrepreneur Alexander Kostenko.

When Alexander launched his start-up Photosynthetic in 2019 to build a new kind of 3D printer, he didn’t have a team yet, nor financial resources. Now, he has found a team and recently received €250,000 in funding. How did Alexander start?

Building a team
When you build a team, it “definitely helps” to hire people that focus on the product or service of the start-up itself and people who focus on the business aspects of the start-up, explains Alexander.

It can be challenging to find the right employees when you have little financial resources or a small network. When Alexander did not have a lot of funding, he hired interns and junior employees. He continued searching for funding to be able to hire more qualified people later on. Alexander advices to contact the incubator of the Amsterdam knowledge institutes ACE if you need help with extending your network.

Finding financial support
There are different ways to finance a start-up. You can for example try to find an angel investor or venture capitalist (VC) who wants to invest in your business or you can apply for grants, seed loans and (government) funds.

The process of receiving money from these entities differs, explains Alexander. You have multiple dialogues about your idea with an angel or VC. You get to know what they think is important in a product and adjust the story of your start-up accordingly. Alexander talked with a VC for over a year, even though his start-up was too small for the VC to invest in. Eventually, they gave Alexander a small convertible loan.

When you apply for grants, loans or funds, it’s possible you only have one chance to convince the investor to give you financial support. When Alexander applied for the NWO take-off grant, he had to persuade the committee in a 15 minute conversation. During this talk you “need to have a sort of a guarantee that [your idea] is not going to fail,” says Alexander.

You can create this guarantee in various ways. First of all, explains Alexander, it “really works” when another investor invests (a small amount of) money. Alexander received the €250,000 of NWO because the VC gave him a small loan. It also helps if you not only have a business case, but can also show investors the (prototype of the) product or service itself. That’s why Alexander’s team is going back and forth with finding proof that the 3D printer will be used by future costumers and working on the 3D printer itself.

Planning and punctuality
Alexander explains it is important to “dedicate enough time” to learn to plan and be punctual. Unlike academic grants, an investor will stop giving financial support when you’re late with or not able to do what you promised to.

That’s why “you need to be strict with yourself and your team,” says Alexander. “You need to make a plan for at least one year ahead” and form an idea on “how to track your own progress and how to stay sharp.”

Alexander’s future
“Photosynthetic is still in a tiny seed stage. It can get really bad or good,” says alexander. “I hope we can now grow and can find someone who has the experience of building something similar who can help us organise and make a strategy. I hope that when the 3D printer works, we can start another idea and another.”

Want to know what Alexander has to say about how you begin a start-up ? Read the interview here.

If you think about starting your own company, if you have any more questions or if you would like to know more about Demonstrator Lab, ACE or AVS, please contact us.