“Many company founders still think it’s 2021 or 2022”

Published on: 18 January 2024

For companies seeking a capital injection to finance further growth, costs are a lot higher than they were two years ago. At the same time, the energy transition has ensured that funding demands are at unprecedented levels. This is the market reality for the ABP Netherlands Energy Transition Fund (ANET). Four years after its inception, we take stock with Fund Manager Jeroen Schreur, Expert Portfolio Manager Martijn Olthof and Senior Portfolio Manager Lodewijk Meens. “In the last four years, the investment proposals we receive, have fortunately become more realistic.”

ANET is an investment fund set up for ABP that focuses on companies that contribute to the energy transition. More specifically: Dutch companies that contribute to all aspects of the energy transition and European companies that contribute to the Dutch energy transition. Because, for example, they have a specific innovation or product that is ideally suited to the Dutch situation. ANET was launched in 2019, initially with a commitment of 50 million euros from ABP; a sum which was later increased to 250 million euros. However, it will be some time before this amount is fully invested.

How much of that 250 million euros has ANET already invested?

Schreur: “Currently, ANET has committed around 100 million euros, about 60 million of which is already invested. We have 40 companies in our portfolio (see box, ed.). Four of these are direct investments: NET2GRID, Soly, VIKTOR and Triple Solar. We also invest in start-ups and scale-ups through three funds: Asper Investment Management, Rockstart and Energy Impact Partners. Several of the companies in our portfolio are now due for a second round of financing. We helped these companies arrange their first external funding, and they have since grown to the point where they need more investment to finance further growth. An increasing proportion of our portfolio is now made up of companies at this stage of development. But we don’t yet really know whether we will achieve our growth path for this year in terms of new investments. In the course of the last year, we screened a number of companies that we would like to have in our portfolio, but for various reasons not all of these have yet resulted in concrete investments.”

What are the reasons for this?

Schreur: “Sometimes another investor puts a higher valuation on an investment; is prepared to pay more, or offers more favorable terms. In other cases, we received certain information about a potential investment at too late a stage, so there was no longer full transparency. When that happens, we withdraw.”

Olthof: “Ultimately, there are a lot of reasons throughout the selection process why a company might fail to make it to the next stage. We have a very large funnel and ANET is now so well-known in the market that we receive many proposals; are shown many major deals. But sometimes these just don’t fit our mandate. For example, they might be too big, too small, or have an insufficiently strong link with the energy transition or the Netherlands. Or the business model is simply not interesting enough, for example, because it is based on technology we don’t believe in.”

Meens: “Of course, the broader changes in valuations over the course of 2023 have also played a role. Many company founders think it’s still 2021 or 2022 and have expectations in terms of valuations that we are not prepared to pay. In such cases we put a proposal on hold and may have the conversation again six months later when the numbers are different.”


What percentage of the deals you look at actually end up in the portfolio?

Schreur: “There’s sort of a rule in the venture capital market that about one percent of what comes along ends up in your portfolio. For ANET, that’s about two percent. Basically you have to see a lot of these kinds of deals to be able to pick out the good ones. It is a combination of the opportunity in the market, the team, the product-market fit and the financials. The whole thing has to be absolutely right, and it also has to be operationally sound, of course. This makes it pretty difficult for a company to get into our portfolio. But once it has got through the selection process, starts to grow and at some point needs new financing - like Soly - we take that seriously.”

What are your expectations of the companies you invest in? When is a second round of financing worth considering?

Meens: “The rule of thumb for our direct investments is that they all start small. This means companies with revenues of five to ten million, or at most 15 million euros. Then we come on board, hopefully by making an attractive investment at a competitive valuation, of course. And two years further on, the company’s revenue should be 100 million euros or more. At this stage the companies still don’t really have to be profitable. They are not yet large or stable; they are fast-growing companies that need capital to take the next step.”

Can you give an example of how a company takes a step like that?

Schreur: “When we first invested in Soly, the company was basically installing solar panels in the Netherlands. With the capital we provided, they added batteries and EV chargers to their product range and developed a home energy management system to optimize domestic energy usage. They also looked into offering dynamic energy contracts. In the Netherlands, they offer all this in one package and have made the transition from solar panel installer to a utility of the future. Now they are ready to roll this out internationally, to the UK, Germany, Italy and so on. And the second round of funding will be used to scale up their activities.”

Is participating in the second round of financing to such a venture a less risky investment?

Schreur: “No, there are still a lot of risks involved, partly because each country has its own dynamics. But the way Soly has organized their marketing and the control they demonstrate within the organization give us confidence in their ability to also roll this out successfully internationally.”

Are there any companies in the portfolio that now have stable annual sales and profits?

Meens: “Our competitors, the venture capital funds, have a time frame of seven to 10 years in which an investment goes from baby, to teenager, to adult, and finally goes public, or is sold to a strategic party. So, for the companies in our portfolio, it will take another four, five years to get to that stage.”

You already mentioned that valuations in the segment where you look to invest have fallen in 2023. What other developments are you seeing in the market?

Olthof: “One interesting development is that the energy transition is now entering a phase where more capital is actually needed. More and more proposals are landing on our desk from companies that are quite small but have a relatively large capital requirement because so much new infrastructure is required. For example, many more charging stations, batteries, wind turbines or solar panels.”

Schreur: “The proposals have also changed over the last four years, also in terms of their capital requirements. Now we get realistic proposals with realistic investment amounts, for operations run by professional management teams.”

Meens: “The big difference compared to a few years ago is that geopolitics has also changed enormously and industrial policy has adapted accordingly. For example, the Inflation Reduction Act has made billions of funds available to lure companies to the US. In Europe, the REPowerEU plan, and in the Netherlands, the Growth Fund have billions set aside for solar energy and batteries, for example. As an investor, you also have to start taking this into account as well. It is good news if you get a subsidy, but it’s bad news if you don’t and your competitor does. This makes it a little trickier. The fact is that, partly because of the war in Ukraine, the amount of state aid and state support has ballooned. In addition, there is an investment hype for anything related to AI or the energy transition. But the question always remains the same: Is this a realistic concept and will it be viable? Will this investment eventually create cashflows? Ultimately it all boils down to being able to look beyond the hype; that is the biggest challenge we and our competitors face.”

In four years, ANET has contributed to the growth of promising companies that offer solutions for the energy transition in the Netherlands. Three of ANET's four direct holdings – Net2Grid, Triple Solar, and Soly – are in the top 250 fastest growing companies in the Netherlands. The total portfolio includes the following direct and indirect investments:

Triple Solar (direct investment)

Triple Solar is a Dutch leading developer, seller and installer of PVT (Photovoltaic Thermal) systems which feature a PV panel, an integrated thermal unit, combined with a in-house developed heat pump which is lightweight, durable and recyclable. It is active in a high growth market for residential decarbonization solutions with the lowest cost of ownership driven by energy efficiency and a governmental push to electrify the built environment and decrease the dependency on fossil energy in affordable housing.

(direct investment)

VIKTOR is a low-code, product-led software platform specifically designed for the engineering industry, allowing engineers to optimize their work into nonrepetitive flawless processes. The company is active in a global, large, standardized engineering market which is under pressure to deliver due to a growing lack of engineers, lagging investments in ageing infrastructure, and an expected increase in infrastructure projects to support the worldwide energy transition. Through VIKTOR, engineers are able to design and construct (green) infrastructure more time-efficiently, at a lower total cost of ownership and with decreased material use.

(direct investment)

Soly (formerly know as Enie.nl) is a leading Dutch full-service provider which sells, procures, installs and monitors complete solar systems with a fully digitalized customer journey which enables them to scale internationally. Soly is capable of growing organically, in line with the under-penetrated solar market as a result of its track-record, fully digitalized customer journey, profitable rental offering, competitive pricing and market-leading customer satisfaction. Its ability to grow internationally has been evidenced by its success in South Africa and Belgium through a controlled low-cost standardized internationalization road map.

(direct investment)

Net2Grid provides the most accurate residential energy insights and predictions thanks to unique know-how in collecting and analyzing smart meter data of different granularities. It identifies, self-learns and predicts which appliance runs during which time, and helps to save energy costs through customer engagement. In this process, the company enables utility companies to sell additional (renewable) energy generating or -saving assets to households. Their B2B2C channel collects and transforms the household energy usage data to high-value information for both utilities companies and their customers. Through investing in Net2Grid, APG catalyzes the transformation of consumers into “prosumers”, i.e. households are expected to consume, produce and store renewable energy and participate bi-directionally in a modern energy market.

Energy Impact Partners (EIP) (fund investment)

EIP invests in companies with technologies that advance the net zero carbon economy. Their investment spectrum ranges from decarbonizing supply, electrifying demand to secure infrastructure, smart home, digitization and cyber security. EIP works with more than 50 strategic LP’s and its current portfolio comprises Greenly, Arcadia, EV Energy and Zolar. EIP’s European fund has closed in September 2022 with €390mln, €140mln above its initial target. EIP acts as a true partner to co-invest in the Netherlands for the ANET team.

Rockstart (fund investment)

Rockstart is an experienced and leading startups accelerator which has invested in 270+ early-stage ventures, with €1 billion of alumni value and €60 million AUM. APG invested in the Rockstart Energy Accelerator program, to create exposure towards early-stage startups and co-investment opportunities. Rockstart Energy Accelerator has the infrastructure in place to guide and support pre-seed phase startups which can create a feeder effect for possible direct ANET investments. Their current portfolio consists of Dutch start-ups such as Soolutions, IM Efficiency, Novasole, and Dexter Energy Services.

Asper Dorothea (fund investment)

Asper Investment Management set up Dorothea as a fully dedicated fund to build and operate at least 4 Smart Green Direct Heating (DH) networks, with each individual DH network built around a biomass heat generation plant. Asper is an experienced investment manager focused on European-wide real assets. The Asper Dorothea project allows APG the opportunity to participate in the creation of the first Dutch Smart Green DH platform, in a partnership backed by strong and experienced operational and financial institutions.


Taylor originated from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). The company's electronics ensure that solar panels that are partly in the shade perform better. In this way, the yield per square meter increases and energy costs decrease. Also, the company's technology ensures that the solar panels last longer and are more fireproof.