Through the eyes of the jury

and their experience over the years


with Carine van den Brink and Geert-Jan Mulder


What is the impact of the Venture Challenge, what does the jury look for in the participants, and what does the future of the Venture Challenge look like? We posed these questions to two longstanding jury members of the Venture Challenge: Carine van den Brink, lawyer and partner at Axon Lawyers and Geert-Jan Mulder, managing partner and founder of Forbion. But let’s start at the beginning. How did they end up on the jury? 

Let's meet the jury members

Van den Brink finished medical school and then became a lawyer. In 2011, she set up Axon lawyers, a law firm focused on the legal and regulatory aspects of the life sciences sector. She originally started as committee member at the Netherlands Genomics Initiative (NGI) in 2008. LifeSciences@Work was established by the NGI in 2008 as a start-up support programme. Needless to say, this made her a great jury member for the Venture Challenge, and in 2009, she was asked to be chair of the jury. Since then, she has been invaluable to the Venture Challenge and the participating teams.  

Mulder was a physician and spent several years working in hospitals. He later made the switch to the pharmaceutical industry. He took the chance to start working at the predecessor of Forbion and later transitioned to become one of the founders of Forbion. In 2010, he was first asked to become a committee member at the NGI and years later also became a regular guest on the jury at the Venture Challenge, where he provides both the healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry perspectives. 

To what do you pay attention as a jury member?

According to the jury members, the business strategy should have two key components. ‘Is it a team? Or is it one person pulling the weight’, says van den Brink. And ‘Are teams able to reflect on themselves? Can they deal with criticism and incorporate it constructively into improving their plan?’, adds Mulder. ‘I sometimes speak to people who have doubts about entering the Venture Challenge and they ask me:

should I do it or not?’, says van den Brink. She noticed that they always hesitate on two points: one, the price and two, it takes a lot of time. ‘To be quite frank, if these are arguments for not doing it, then you really don’t take yourself seriously.’ ‘Also, don’t think you already know it all,’ adds Mulder. ‘I have never spoken to a team that regretted participating.’ 

Do you see certain trends in the teams over the years?

Van den Brink and Mulder see more and more MedTech and digital health every year. In the beginning, most of the teams were in Biotech. Nowadays the Venture Challenge also proves to have a big value for MedTech and digital health teams. 'These companies have a much shorter cycle compared to Biotech, due to the many rules and regulations associated with getting a drug to market’, says van den Brink. ‘Also the perceived risk of the invention not reaching the market is smaller, therefore some investors also invest in MedTech. This is in contrast to Forbion which is focussed completely on drug development’, Mulder adds.

Are there any teams that stood out to you? 

Ambagon is a Biotech company that made a strong and lasting impression on van den Brink and Mulder. ‘We could already see their potential during the finals’, they say in chorus. ‘It was such a tight plan; they were already in touch with investors in America when they entered the Venture Challenge’, says van den Brink. ‘However, teams that are going to be successful are not always the winners. But during their participation, you could clearly see that they stood out from the crowd’, she adds. 

How do you see the Venture Challenge in the future? 

Both jury members see a long future for the Venture Challenge. According to them, the programme has already been professionalised to such an extent in recent years that the quality of the pitches is increasing each year. Therefore, van den Brink and Mulder hope to remain part of the jury for a long time to come.