In the latest issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine, we introduce LEGO Ventures, the arm of the much-loved brick brand that is looking for the next big ‘learning through play’ business.
LEGO Ventures seeks to invest in entrepreneurs, ideas and start-ups that sit at the intersection of creativity, play and learning. We spoke to Morten Vestergaard Andersen – EMEA Investment Partner, Robert Lowe – Head of Value Creation and Michael Stahl – Head of LEGO Ventures Incubation Studio, to find out more about LEGO Ventures’ Mission.
What does the team look for in investment opportunities?
Morten – First we look for a clear alignment to the LEGO® Principles around learning through play and we care deeply about the product being a positive force in children’s lives. When looking at specific investment opportunities we assess similarly to traditional venture firms, with focus on extraordinary teams with clear differentiation on product vision, technology, distribution channels etc.
What are your three lighthouses, and why these elements?
Morten – Our three lighthouses are creativity, play and learning. The intersection of these three elements encapsulates the LEGO® idea and guides our focus towards companies delivering meaningful and nourishing experiences.
What is the link between LEGO® and entrepreneurship?
Morten – Entrepreneurship runs in the LEGO® brand’s veins. The founding family have always been entrepreneurial at heart and on a quest to continuously reinvent and innovate their business. This is reflected deeply in the core product philosophy itself, which is around daring to try new things, to fail, to iterate and to learn by doing.
What inspired the launch of LEGO Ventures?
Morten – A belief that the LEGO® idea of learning through play is applicable broader than the LEGO® brick. From that came a desire to engage with disruptors, innovators and new-thinkers to bring even more meaningful experiences to children and other learners all over the world – the ‘builders of tomorrow’ as we like to call them.
Rob – We also felt it was important to have a team that was focused on what is happening outside of the LEGO Group in the world of creativity and learning through play. Although The LEGO Group have innovated amazingly around the brick, and there are also many other companies and products that have successfully taken these principles into the digital space. LEGO Ventures endeavours to spot such companies and work with them at the right stages to ensure the LEGO Group remains at the cutting-edge of industry innovations.
Why is your focus on learning through play?
Morten – It is the shared philosophy of all the entities under the LEGO® brand, that play is the most effective and natural way to learn the most essential skills. Through play, we naturally learn to test, fail and iterate – alone and together. This builds core higher order skills such as creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.
Rob – Learning through play is a broad catch-all, but it has
a profound meaning. If someone – whether they are a child, adult or grandparent – enjoys what they are doing, they will do it again, pay more attention, bring others into it. Why should learning be boring or repetitive when it can be open-ended and creative? There are so many entertaining yet also nutritious experiences and products being created out there, we want to get right into the middle of them and see where we can help them grow and flourish.
Is it mainly children and educational spaces you invest in, or do you cover other areas?
Morten – Within the scope of things that support learning through play, we try to stay as broad and open-minded as possible. That being said, we often find that the education space and children’s consumer products, including digital, are our sweet spots.
Do you offer additional support after investment?
Rob – Yes – it is essentially our unique selling point versus other VCs or funds. There is plenty of investment money out there, what we have to offer alongside the financial aspect is the 87 years of knowledge and expertise that comes with being global experts in the field of play and creativity. LEGO Ventures will provide this access and exposure for our investments. We want to utilise this to help our portfolio grow and flourish, whilst also bringing them into the
LEGO® entities to show how different approaches can yield incredible results. We call it mutual ‘value creation’ – and it is a core reason why LEGO Ventures was set up.
At what point in a company’s lifecycle would you invest?
Morten – We are fairly stage agnostic but aim for companies with some revenue traction and proof of product-market fit. In Europe, this usually translates to Series A and forward.
Is it short or long-term investment? And why?
Morten – Within a venture capital context, we consider ourselves long-term investors. We originate from an 87-year- old company and we understand that to be successful, we have to saddle up to support our founders in the long-run.
How do you leverage technologies like AR and AI?
Morten – We see huge potential in new immersive technologies such as AR and VR, and maybe even more so in deeply disruptive technologies such as AI. There are many nuances, but in general we believe that if applied correctly, technologies such as these can play a positive role in the education and children’s space as well.
What is LEGO Ventures Incubation Studio?
Michael – We recently launched LEGO Ventures Incubation Studio, which is a launchpad for exploring, building, launching and scaling new ideas that bring creativity, play and learning into the life of children around the world. It is operating as a venture studio that are exploring early stage ideas and new venture opportunities with the purpose of building commercially-viable businesses together with entrepreneurs.
Why does LEGO Ventures need the Incubation Studio?
Michael – Everything big once started small, and we believe it’s important to create a space where we can nurture and validate early stage ideas. In many ways it is in line with how children are learning through play, by creating a safe environment where you can experiment and learn through a hands-on, minds-on approach. We are building on our entrepreneurial heritage and our belief that the LEGO® idea of learning through play is applicable broader than the LEGO® brick system.
We also believe that in order to fully engage with entrepreneurs, innovators and new thinkers, we needed a complimentary setup to our investment team, enabling us to work on maturing and validating early stage ideas and opportunities.
Where do these ideas come from?
Michael – Early trends show that ideas and opportunities will come from a variety of sources, ranging from internal colleagues in our entities to external entrepreneurs around the globe. As we are ramping up our efforts and programs during 2020 we will be looking to work with the full range of entrepreneurs, innovators and new-thinkers.
What kind of ideas will you be looking for?
Michael – We are guided by the same theses and focus-areas as our investment-team, and will looking to work with interesting individuals and entrepreneurs who have early stage ideas that can shape the future of play, learning and creativity.
How can entrepreneurs join?
Michael – We are just getting started and during the spring of 2020 we will be announcing various ways to engage with the Incubation Studio – for now we would urge you to stay connected through Twitter and LinkedIn.
You can read the full, digital version of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine here.