The Rosa project led by Sébastien Deletaille took the form of an ASBL. A formula far from the classic stereotypes of tech start-ups characterized by fundraising for resale and added value for their shareholders and founders. Why?
To get people talking about them, tech start-ups generally communicate about their fundraising. These amounts raised from investors who believe in their ability to grow and, why not, to change the world, have long been considered (often wrongly) as important milestones, signs of potential success (in the making).
To get people talking about them, tech start-ups generally communicate about their fundraising. These amounts raised from investors who believe in their ability to grow and, why not, to change the world, have long been considered (often wrongly) as important milestones, signs of potential success (in the making). For founders and early-stage investors, fundraising effectively means increasing the value of their equity stake. However, the dream path for a lot of tech entrepreneurs consists of a rapid growth of their product, a series of fundraising boosting the valuation of their company, then a resale. Many also accept to be paid little at the beginning, in anticipation of a return at the time of fundraising and especially of an exit. Inevitably, this well-known trajectory only works with a commercial enterprise whose capital is held by shareholders. Not for an ASBL, for example, which has no capital. Yet it is indeed this status that has endorsed Rosa, the project launched by Sébastien Deletaille, an entrepreneur known for having launched Real Impact Analytics, a Brussels start-up specializing in big data telecom. Rosa’s goal? Become the first Belgian health app offering a starting point for many services, starting with making appointments with health professionals and hospitals. Although Rosa’s ASBL status has not been hidden in any way for two years, no one was really surprised by this information, shared here and there according to the articles, including recently when Rosa bought the Flemish firm Umbi for accelerate its growth with hospitals. A tech non-profit organization run by a start-up founder known for his ambition for strong growth with this company which had raised 12 million in 2016 from the Fortino fund…, the concept is surprising. How, indeed, could an ASBL imagine raising funds, being valued, or even resold, to remunerate founders and shareholders? “We are in a totally different scheme, specifies Sébastien Deletaille from the outset, who talks about societal entrepreneurship. When launching Rosa, we asked ourselves the question of the legal form of the structure and we concluded that it was difficult to have a societal raison d’être in a commercial legal form.” Not to mention that the creation of Rosa was not made in the fund of a (future) start-up garage between friends who dreamed of changing the world. “I met Sébastien as part of his Data For Good initiative, recalls Alex Parisel, Managing Director of the Partenamut mutuality. And as our discussions progressed, we talked about the holy grail of a mutuality: the health app that bridges the gap between patients and professionals in the sector. Since we consider that health is a common good and we want to prevent this kind of app from being developed by Gafa, the idea was born…” It is therefore in the bosom of Partenamut that Rosa was born. It was immediately imagined that the product should be free for patients and that the project would require funds. However, Partenamut has a fund that supports innovations: Partena Promeris. And the world of mutual funds is built around ASBLs. It is therefore quite naturally that this legal status was chosen for Rosa. “Which absolutely does not mean that we should be part of a less qualitative development scheme, carried out by volunteers and without means, insists Alex Parisel. On the contrary, the idea is to introduce effective methods from the private sector in this approach to maximize the impact. In this sense, a tech entrepreneur like Sébastien Deletaille brings the right reflexes for this objective. And the structure of the non-profit organization brings the long-term societal vision.” It is also interesting to note that the founders of the ASBL come from the Partena galaxy and that Sébastien Deletaille is not part of it as a founding member, but appears as the legal representative of the ASBL, as CEO. “It is nonetheless a founding member in the same way as Partena”, insists Alex Parisel. The choice of the ASBL is, moreover, not insignificant in the health sector. This would even reassure the sector and remove a certain mistrust. “This is a sector where there is a real opposition between the merchant and the non-merchant, observes Sébastien Deletaille. And we see the desire on the part of professionals, institutions and the regulator to see the emergence of non-profit actors Moreover, the advantage of the ASBL is that the capital relationship is eliminated. There is no shareholding and what remains is the societal mission.” For Rosa, it’s about using digital technology to improve access to health, to increase prevention and therefore, ultimately, to improve people’s health. Not just for the members of Partenamut, but for all Belgians. This mission is measured by very precise but adapted KPIs (key performance indicators). Rosa’s managers do not look first at the income of the “start-up/ASBL” but at other elements that allow them to determine the interest of their project and the impact it has on users. “At Rosa, the first metric is not recurring revenue, says Sébastien Deletaille. It is rather the number of users correlated with the number of institutions and health professionals who use us, the number of interactions with the patients, the number of appointments made, their frequency, etc. This is what I am evaluated on as CEO.” In terms of financing, alongside the beginnings of revenue generated by certain Rosa services, all developments have been financed by Partena Promeris for the past two years. And probably for at least another five years. Alex Parisel does not reveal the amounts allocated to Rosa. However, he specifies that his mutual fund devotes annually between 3 and 5% of the 100 million euros of income from the complementary insurance of its members to the financing of innovations, including Rosa, which today employs around forty people. Without necessarily expecting any return other than the societal impact, the ASBL cannot indeed be resold.