Wolter Wefers Bettink: Look out for the sharks
After a successful career of 28 years as a lawyer and partner at various renowned law firms, Wolter Wefers Bettink decided to dedicate a day per week to advising startups on topics like intellectual property, negotiating, dealing with conflicts and other legal matters.
As a partner at Houthoff in 2012, he initiated a program providing legal support to startup companies. The main driver was the realisation that startups often do not have their legal matters adequately set up, which may only become apparent when an investor conducts due diligence. At the age of 62, he retired at Houthoff, and it was Duke Urbanik (Entrepreneur in Residence) who convinced him to join YES!Delft as a Legal Counsel in Residence in 2015.
At YES!Delft Wolter could advise founders to set things up correctly from the start instead of stepping in when things had already gone wrong. “IP is key”, Wolter says. “In Delft, there are two major IP areas of importance: Patents on technical inventions and software copyright. It is important to be informed about the possibilities and the consequences for various scenarios.”
Most of the time, startups start with a couple of founders that have an idea (often they are friends), they set up an organisation and start working together. If, after some time, one of the founders decides to leave and start a new adventure and nothing was agreed on intellectual property or copyright, this may create a severe hazard to the organisation. What if the person leaving takes their contribution with them to a new organisation?
“It is gratifying to give startups the information they need at the right time”
Over the past seven years, Wolter has seen many companies spread their wings and fly. He is proud and happy to have contributed to the success of these startups. “It is gratifying to give startups the information they need at the right time,” Wolter says. He has seen some successful companies from close by that started with a group of students, like, for example, Swapfiets. They began in 2015 and have grown into 1500 employees in four different countries, taken over by Pon in 2019. Another example Wolter has advised from the start is ParkBee, a company that quickly grew out of the YES!Delft facilities and is now scaling up internationally.
“It is important that entrepreneurs are correctly informed about their rights concerning Intellectual Property and patents. Lack of appropriate information about their rights could result in contracts they regret later. In 2020 a new regulation was created by VSNU and NFU, which calls for transparency and fair dealings with (student-)entrepreneurs,” Wolter says. “Another important element is the fact that master students have the right to request an embargo for their thesis. Thereby, they have the opportunity to apply for a patent for an invention made in the master phase, before the information becomes public.” The same applies to agreements startup founders make with clients in the case of a pilot.
A network is an essential benefit
Sometimes startups deal with issues that are too complex to discuss in a couple of hours or they require specific expertise. In these cases, Wolter referred the startups to lawyers, patent attorneys or civil law notaries in his network that could help. This network is an essential benefit of the Entrepreneurs in Residence at YES!Delft. Wolter is realistic about networks too and says: “My network watered down a bit”.
In 2019 he realised it was essential to add legal expertise in investments, shareholders agreements and financing, and he introduced Philip van Verschuer, a former partner at Loyens & Loeff. Philip is continuing his work as Legal Counsel in Residence at YES!Delft. To make up for Wolter’s departure, YES!Delft is partnering with several law firms, where startups can purchase legal advice on contracts and IP at reasonable rates. Another positive development he has seen over the years is that YES!Delft is currently more focused on funding, which is crucial for startups.
What is the best advice for young entrepreneurs thinking of starting a company?
Wolter indicates that the most crucial element is creating a team of good people who click together. This is one of the reasons that part of the YES!Delft Accelerator program focuses on team analysis.
In addition to this, it is essential to have endurance and resilience to keep going. There will be rough moments in the entrepreneurial journey, and persistence will pull you thru.
Furthermore, you should be able to make the right decisions at the right time. This sometimes means you need to say goodbye to people who are not a good fit for your organisation, or develop a new product when there is no market for the original one.
And last but not least: Look out for the sharks! Become streetwise and do not agree to any binding contracts with people with different intentions.
After seven years, we say goodbye to Wolter. We are very thankful for all the energy Wolter put into our startups. Looking ahead into the future, Wolter indicated he would like to stay active and spend more time with his family. He will also remain active as a mediator in his own company Wefers Bettink, perhaps do some writing and give legal advice to startups if requested. There will undoubtedly be interesting new challenges on his path!
Editorial note: If you would like to find more information about Intellectual property and the legal position for TU Delft students, visit: https://www.tudelft.nl/en/student/legal-position/intellectual-property
Do you want to see who and what can help you in your way to startup? Then visit the TU Delft Campus website to find an overview of the several programmes, events and parties.