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“We move forwards and don’t lose momentum” – an interview with Jan Kasper, Managing Director of ZAKA VC

We are bringing you the view of our Co-Founder and Managing Director on the current fundraising conditions, trending business sectors and also ZAKA VC’s plans for the near future.

1. 2023 was a successful year for ZAKA. Which factors contributed most to this from your perspective?

Startup valuations became more realistic last year, which opened up a much wider range of investment opportunities for investors, including ZAKA, at lower valuations. Every good investor knows that this is the time to invest. We follow the strategy of global, experienced investors.

2. Last year was characterised by the massive onset of artificial intelligence. How does the use of generative AI shape yours thinking about new VC investments?

When talking about AI, we ask ourselves how does it challenge the startup we are assessing – in terms of tech development, HR and performance. It is important for us as an investor that the human factor is not easily replaceable by AI in the company´s activity.

3. You focused extensively on biotech startups in the past year. What makes this segment interesting for you as an investor?

Besides developing technologies or medications, biotech companies usually work with a team of top experts and have substantial intellectual property. They bring innovation and move medicine and the quality of human life forward. They need capital to conduct research and development and represent a high value-added investment opportunity for ZAKA. At ZAKA, we cooperate with venture partners to help us identify and assess interesting opportunities. We also watch closely the top-tier players in biotech investing and see that they are thinking similarly and also lean their attention towards the biotech sector.

4. How many startups has ZAKA invested in in 2023, and which sectors are most represented in your portfolio this year?

In 2023, we made a total of 26 investments. 18 of these were new companies; in 8 other cases, they were follow-on investments, i.e., supporting startups in our portfolio. Health and biotech were the dominating areas within the segments.

Overall, we became one of the most active VC family offices in Europe in 2023.

Jan Kasper, Managing Director of ZAKA VC

5. You are an investor with a global focus. Which regions are you prioritising and why?

We are interested in investment opportunities in our home region, i.e. the Czech Republic and Slovakia, but we are also watching very closely the Baltic countries, the UK, the DACH region, and the United States.

6. You mentioned the focus on the Baltic countries – what attracted you to these markets?

The Baltic countries brought some of the most successful startups in Europe. Estonia, for example, has the most investments per capita. This region has already produced 11 startup unicorns, including 2 decacorns – for example, Bolt. It’s because of, among other things, their ecosystem, which is set up entirely differently from ours and which has been primarily driven by visionary politicians. They have managed to set taxes or legislation effectively, which is reflected in the overall business environment and the rapid development of their ecosystem.

7. In 2023, together with Accace, you launched the AceOn accelerator, which aims to support startups through education or possible investment. How do you assess the first edition’s success, and which startups do you want to focus on this year within the accelerator?

In the first year, opportunities came mainly from the Slovak and Czech markets. This year, we want to focus on attracting even more attention from startups across the European region.

8. On LinkedIn, we noticed that you read a lot. What books would you recommend to startup founders, and what books would you suggest to investors?

For founders, I highly recommend a publication by Elad Gil, in which he discusses the growth of startups. It’s called High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People. It is a guide to managing the most complex challenges founders of high-growth startups face. It is a beneficial and applicable read not only for founders but also for investors. Equally noteworthy is Eric Ries’ “classic” called Lean Startup. The book serves as a compass that guides startups through the maze of uncertainty and enables them to manoeuvre through today’s constantly evolving business environment with agility, resilience, and a customer-focused approach.

For investors, I recommend the book Power Law by award-winning financial historian Sebastian Mallaby. It’s a book about venture capital and the world it has created. Among other things, this publication is full of history and is also educational. It is a kind of bible for investors.

9. What are ZAKA’s plans for the next period? What are you currently working on?

ZAKA wants to continue to grow and invest. We are eager to educate ourselves and want to be better every day, which we are working hard for. We are also preparing a new fund for 2024. The expected fund size will be in the range of 12-15 million euros, it will be based in Prague and focused on pre-seed and seed stage startup in the Baltic, UK and in the US. For the first time, we will open up to other investors – our future Limited Partners.