Eric Breese is an Investment Manager at Evonik Venture Capital. His responsibilities include deal sourcing, investment due diligence, strategy development, and portfolio company support. He serves as a Board Observer for a portfolio company. He brings a strong financial foundation to evaluating opportunities with strategic relevance to Evonik. Eric joined Evonik in 2006 and has held various corporate and business positions in Germany and the U.S. Eric has held various positions including Chief Administrative Officer (legal), Vice President of Operations/Controller (high-tech & services) and consulting. Eric has a BA in accounting, is a Certified Public Accountant (WI) and an MBA.
What made you transition to venture capital (VC)?
I have a financial and management background and was lucky to work with early-stage businesses earlier in my career. This created an interest in the various avenues these companies use to finance their growth. I was given the opportunity to join the Evonik Venture Capital team and happily moved into the group. A position in VC requires utilization of a wide set of skills such as negotiation, analysis and public speaking, all of which I enjoy. There is great intensity to the job as well. It is very enjoyable to see all the innovative companies that cross our desks and get to know the entrepreneurs behind them.
You forged strategic partnerships with startups, middle market and multinational corporations—what is a middle market?
When I think of the middle market, I think of companies in the range of $100 million up to about $500 million in revenue. I don't really concern myself over the size but want organizations to know we work with good ideas to meet our strategic objectives no matter what size organization they originate from.
What is an open innovation strategy?
Today, the industries with above-average growth rates and great future potential have short product and innovation cycles. To keep pace with the dynamics of these cycles, we will have to network much more intensively in the future and conduct our research and development together with external partners. This means that, for long-term business success, it will become increasingly important to build internal and external partnerships along the value chain. In addition, we must identify expertise that is relevant to the company and make it accessible to the group.
As an Investment Manager at Evonik, do you interact with Directors of Innovation across other continents? Have you faced obstacles with IP laws and global markets?
When the startup is in another part of the world, there can be obstacles due to local legal and cultural differences. This can create challenges but one of the advantages of working at Evonik is we have Innovation Directors across the globe to help navigate these issues. We work closely together with these colleagues who also help assess the opportunity as it relates to Evonik innovation strategy for their business. This is invaluable for me. All these interactions strengthen my interpersonal skills as well as provide insights to use in future opportunities.
What was one of the strategic partnerships you’re most proud of fostering/pushing to market?
The most rewarding partnerships provide a positive outcome for both parties. The technology is interesting and needs support in terms of financial or intellectual capital. Evonik brings several key advantages as a strategic partner. These include scale-up experience, IP strategy, market access, a strong reputation, and financial strength. We work to strike an agreement between the two organizations on how to approach the future. Ultimately, seeing the commercialization of these ideas is extremely satisfying.
What problems would you most like to solve in collaboration with one of your strategic partnerships?
Evonik pursues several Innovation Growth Fields that address the great challenges of our times. Recently, I have worked on numerous opportunities in the growth field of additive manufacturing. I am excited to see the advances in this area although there are still many hurdles for wide-scale adoption of this technology. Finding ways to overcome the current limitations of these technologies is very interesting to me. As I reflect on the current pandemic crises, the ability to produce urgently required product, at scale, as needed, without long lead times and supply chains is very important. Many in the additive manufacturing industry were able to quickly pivot into producing various PPE in a very short time period. The traditional manufacturing techniques will always have a place but helping advance a nimbler technique with improved equipment and materials is very exciting.
What do you do in your free time, if you have any?
The theme of work-life balance is very important for Evonik and I feel I can only be my best by finding some free time. Of course, the job is demanding, but I make time for many other things. I think quality time with my family is critical to me being successful and I also enjoy running marathons and biking.
This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.
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