FINTECH: An MBA Graduate Left Banking To Launch Online Lender Spotcap Overseas — And It’s Thriving

IE Business School graduate Niels Turfboer spotted an opportunity in business banking

When Niels Turfboer enrolled in the MBA program at IE Business School in Madrid, he looked beyond a traditional career in banking. He decided to join the fast-growing fintech industry instead. 

Having worked at institutional lenders for over a decade, his MBA training enabled him to spot an opportunity in the business banking space. Four years after graduation, he joined fintech startup Spotcap as managing director.

Spotcap offers working capital lines of credit — up to £250,000 — to small and medium-sized companies online. Spotcap has a run rate of £100 million in loans per year. The company operates in Spain, the Netherlands and Australia. Spotcap also opened a branch in the UK last year, despite Brexit. The business employs 100 people and has raised €75 million in venture capital.

Spotcap is headquartered in Berlin and was nurtured by Rocket Internet, the German internet incubator that has been called a “clone factory” because it transports the business models of successful US startups overseas.

Previously, Niels worked at Dutch banks ABN Amro and ING. Now, he’s now competing with them. 

Q. What business opportunity did you see at Spotcap?

What I saw at Spotcap was a massive opportunity to fill a hole in the countries we operate in between what the customer wanted and what was delivered to them. It’s not only about access to funds. We operate in a more customer-centric way than banks. Banks have become so big that sometimes it’s difficult for them to deliver that in the same way that fintechs do. 

Q. Did you know you wanted to work in fintech before the MBA? 

I’m a traditional banker. I worked for over a decade in the banking industry. But I wanted to be more entrepreneurial. There were opportunities to be entrepreneurial in banking, but after the crisis, this was gone. I chose a very particular school — IE — because it is known for having a strong focus on innovation and for being entrepreneurial. A large part of the MBA course is focused on teaching people to build and run a company. 

Q. You’ve worked for bulge-bracket banks. Are you now trying to disrupt them?

No. Absolutely not. I have a mild opinion on this. Disruption at business school is defined as the displacement of an entire sector. We are not doing that. What we are doing is innovating and bringing innovation back to the industry. There is in fact a lot of collaboration with banks.

Q. You were incubated by Rocket Internet, widely known as a “clone factory”. Do you recognise that tag?

Spotcap is not a clone of anybody. Everything we do is done by us and we haven’t copied any company. We said we are going to build our own company and hire great people to deliver on that promise. We were very happy that Rocket incubated us. You get a lot of money to start with, and have shared services in the first six months.

Q. You’ve launched in the UK. After the Brexit uncertainty, are you reconsidering?

No. We moved in after Brexit. We were surprised at the result, but having analysed the situation, we concluded it’s not a negative. I see downsides, but not for our business model. We know there will be two years of deal making and uncertainty over trade barriers and freedom of movement. It tends to be bad for the economy, and this has had an impact. But we already had this knowledge moving into the market. We might be able to be more selective about lending to companies in industries that are hit hardest by the uncertainty. We are not going to do cherry picking, but we might take precautions in lending money. At the same time, during uncertainty banks are risk-averse and take a step back, and that opens up opportunities for the alternative finance sector to fill that gap. 

Q. So Brexit isn’t bad for London?

London is by far the best fintech hub in Europe and perhaps even globally. I see a lot of talent and innovation and support systems for fintech. There is regulation that is favourable for innovation. I like the fact that it’s not impeding regulation. It’s a driver for the London economy. 

Q. On that subject, do you hire business school graduates? 

Yes. We do. Obviously, we try to hire the best candidates, but being a graduate of business school myself, I know there are lots of talented people on MBA programs. We have five MBAs globally in our company. Usually they come in with six or seven years’ experience, so they come in at a more senior position.

Q. Do you consider yourself to be an entrepreneur? 

Yes. Very much so. When we first moved into the Amsterdam market, I had no physical office and zero staff. I was running around with my suitcase to find employees, interviewing people in hotel lobbies. We set it up all from scratch —  that’s the very definition of being an entrepreneur.

Q. Is the MBA curriculum relevant to entrepreneurs?

Yes, at least the MBA I’ve done. At IE, 30% of the courses I did had an entrepreneurial focus. 

This transcript has been edited for clarity 

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