T‑Venture boss departs Deutsche Telekom amid innovation shake-up

10 May 2013

NEXT BERLIN Expo by NEXT Berlin, Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution

NEXT BERLIN Expo by NEXT Berlin, Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution

Deutsche Telekomwatch can reveal that Georg Schwegler has left his role as Chief Executive of T‑Venture, to work as a consultant and freelancer in the venture capital industry

Schwegler had led T‑Venture since 2005, when he took over its management from Thomas Kühr, having previously run the T‑Com Venture Fund, a T‑Venture unit that backs a variety of networking companies, including Israel’s Actelis and French router manufacturer OneAccess. Joining Deutsche Telekom (DT) in 1997, he had worked at T‑Venture since 2000.

T-Venture refresh continues

The surprise departure of such a long‑standing executive, which DT has now confirmed, looks to tie in with the broader internal restructuring that has been taking place around DT’s investment activities, including T‑Venture. Bloomberg reported in September 2012 that DT managers were unhappy with the performance of T‑Venture — according to a DT spokesperson cited by the news agency, the operator was then set to overhaul its investment strategy so that startups would be “managed by the thematically-related [DT] business unit, rather than by T‑Venture”.

Although a DT spokesperson insists there is “absolutely no connection” between the Bloomberg report and Schwegler’s departure,  T‑Venture is said to have come under pressure in recent times to accelerate its investment activity — something evident in the recent creation of the operator’s Telekom Innovation Pool arm, which is being led by the venture capital business, and is mandated to expand and oversee majority‑owned startups, including internal ventures SureNow (insurance) and Trust2Core (bring‑your-own‑device) — Deutsche Telekomwatch, #11 and #17. At the same time, T‑Venture has continued to appear active in the marketplace for minority investments, and looks in April 2013 to have secured a decent exit from small cells vendor Ubiquisys, with Cisco saying it will pay $310m (€237m) in “cash and retention‑based incentives” for the business (Deutsche Telekomwatch, #19). To date, T-Venture is understood to have invested in 180 companies, including seed funding and taking early stage and lead investor roles.

Other signs of a shift in the operator’s approach towards funding startups include the opening of DT’s hub:raum incubators in Berlin and Krakow, giving portfolio companies access to DT resources as well as “start‑up funds of up to €30,000 for six months”. This activity appears to overlap somewhat with the role of T‑Venture. Interestingly, in DT’s February 2013 announcement about fostering innovation — in which it first announced the opening of the Krakow incubator (the Berlin one having launched in mid‑2012) — the operator made no mention of T‑Venture and its investments. DT has also been ostensibly expanding ties with external venture capital players as part of its growing Strategic Partnerships programme.

Management responsibility for T-Venture currently lies with Patrick Meisberger, T Venture’s Managing Director, and Katharina Hollender, the Chief Financial Officer, according to DT’s spokesperson, which suggests both could be candidates for the new vacantly Chief Executive role. Meisberger took up his current role in July 2009, having joined T‑Venture as an investment manager in April 2004 and taken responsibility for the T‑Online Venture Fund in November 2006. Hollender became T‑Venture’s Chief Financial Officer in April 2009, and was formerly the Chief Financial Officer of T‑Mobile International.

Nonetheless, if DT is looking to instil more oomph in T‑Venture, an external appointment could be more of a possibility.

Innovation strategy in flux

More broadly, DT’s innovation strategy appears to be in flux as a result of various management changes, some of which have yet to take effect. The resignation at end‑2011 of Ed Kozel (former Chief Technology & Information Officer) prompted René Obermann (outgoing Chief Executive) to assume responsibility for the Products & Innovation unit. DT has yet to announce who will oversee this unit at board level, when Obermann resigns at end‑2013, but successor Timotheus Höttges (current Chief Financial Officer) seems ill‑suited to that particular role (Deutsche Telekomwatch, #16). A natural choice could be Thomas Kiessling (Chief Products & Innovation Officer).

Iain Morris, Richard Agnew

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