Guerric de Crombrugghe, Founding Partner at Nuketech discusses with Mark Hinaman how venture capital is helping push the nuclear industry to new heights.
[00:00:00] Guerric de Crombrugghe: I tend to see any ecosystem as kind of a toolbox. And so you just, if you spend enough time in the toolbox, you’re like, Hmm, I could assemble these few tools and make something new. And I think that’s exactly what happened. Yeah, so I had spent quite a while in the space sector.
I think , it’s an Indian saying that the father of Patagonia uses he says, we are the people we are waiting for. Which is really true for nuclear as well, yeah. Why aren’t we doing more nuclear? Well, we are the people we are waiting for.
Let’s do it. It’s up to us to do it.
[00:00:30] Intro: Just because the facts are A, if the narrative is B and everyone believes the narrative, then B is what matters. But it’s our job in our industry to speak up proudly Soberly. And to engage people in this dialogue, those two and a half billion people that are on energy poverty, they need us. America cannot meet this threat alone.
If there is a single country, of course, the world cannot meet without America that is willing to, we’re the next generation, the need scientists to design fuel, focus on net public benefits. We need engineers to invent new technologies over absurd levels of radiation entrepreneurs to sell those technologies.
Then we will march towards this. We need workers to operate a. Assembly lines that come with high tech. Zero carbon prosperity for need. Diplomats and businessmen and women and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations skip past the dirty phase of development and transition to sustainable sources of energy.
In other words, we need you.
[00:01:35] Mark Hinaman: All right. Welcome to another episode of the Fire Division podcast. We’re joined today by Garrick De.
[00:01:46] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Almost, almost. I’m not gonna correct you. It’s almost good.
[00:01:52] Mark Hinaman: He’s a founding partner at Nuketech, which I’m really excited to learn about Nuketech and hear about all the work that you guys are doing. So, Garrick, for the audience, why don’t you give kind a 32nd self introduction and we’ll dive into some of your background and talk about how you got here.
[00:02:07] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah. Perfect. Thank you very much mark for hosting me. I’m very excited to, to be able to have this conversation. So, indeed that’s my name. So I’m an engineer by training master in Three Dynamics and Master in Chemical Engineering. And I got a PhD in plasma physics from the University of Queensland.
I worked for 10 years approximately, devoted in the aerospace sector. Everything that flies, drones, rockets, airplanes, and then launched the startup sold. The startup and decided to go on with my next challenge, which would be the, the nuclear sector. And yeah. So now we are, actually fundraising.
So we are structuring at the moment one of the first nuclear focused venture capital funds for early stage startups, developing solutions relevant for the. With two other associates. NuTech. Yeah.
[00:02:57] Mark Hinaman: That’s incredible. I can’t wait to hear more about it. So you, started in the startup world though.
What? What kind of projects were you guys working on? you said aerospace, right?
[00:03:06] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So aerospace, I first did everything you can do as a job, in the aerospace sector, as a type of job. I mean, starting with academia research And then strategy consulting.
And after strategy consulting, I moved on to being actually more operational in the industry for a couple of different companies. And there really, it was very diversified, super interesting. So, working on the maintenance of fighter jets all the way to first vector control systems for rocket launchers.
So, very exciting topics. And then, I launched my startup. I’ve always had a very strong interest for innovation. And so, but I launched my startup a little bit yet I had plenty of ideas in the meantime, so that was a lot of failed project. But the first one that actually worked, we were,
[00:03:48] Mark Hinaman: had a lot of lot of activity on your LinkedIn, right?
[00:03:50] Guerric de Crombrugghe: yeah, yeah. True. And so, the startup, we were delivering analytics for agriculture. Based on satellite luxury using a specific technology called Hyper spectral. Okay. And so we sold it last year in April and all the consolidated, we sold it to another startup and another consolidated entity has a payload on the International Space Station.
Launching two satellites next year. Just had a big demo with Bayer in Chicago fire, et cetera. So yeah, it’s it’s going well. Yeah. Awesome.
[00:04:22] Mark Hinaman: was it just exposure to the space that allowed you to try with that startup?
[00:04:29] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, so I think the more you, if you like to thinker and have ideas and look at, okay, what could do.
I tend to see any ecosystem as kind of a toolbox. And so you just, if you spend enough time in the toolbox, you’re like, Hmm, I could assemble these few tools and make something new. And I think that’s exactly what happened. Yeah, so I had spent quite a while in the space sector.
I knew a lot of people had a lot of a really good network which also helps to get funding, et cetera. And yeah, at some point it was like, okay satellite measure is really relevant for agriculture, but we need that extra edge, which is hypersexual technologies. No one is doing it. Why? Then I was like, yeah, because they’re waiting for me, actually.
So I’m gonna
[00:05:12] Mark Hinaman: Strong sense of ownership and
[00:05:14] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah. Yeah. I think , it’s an Indian saying that the father of Patagonia uses he says, we are the people we are waiting for. Which is really true for nuclear as well, yeah. Why aren’t we doing more nuclear? Well, we are the people we are waiting for.
Let’s do it. It’s up to us to do it.
[00:05:30] Mark Hinaman: Totally agree. Okay, so what, what is NuTech? How’d you get interested in nuclear? And, what are you guys trying to accomplish
[00:05:38] Guerric de Crombrugghe: so I got interested in nuclear I got interested in nuclear because I was looking at the issues of climate change. Rhino, if you get into the first PR principle thinking you, could, okay, climate change, greenhouse gases, where do they come from?
75% comes from energy production. Ah more renewables. Hmm. Already a lot of people working on it. Cool. Let them continue, but these are something else we could do. Well, nuclear, we stopped doing new nuclear. It’s a super low car one, so, We need nuclear fights. It’s honestly, it’s a bit of a no brainer.
So yeah. Okay, let’s go for it. And then digging into the nuclear sector, what I saw is I tend to be very talkative, so if you need to stop me, stop me. But what I noticed by looking at the nuclear sector was something very similar to the space sector a decade ago, right? So it used to be big companies with cost plus contract from directly emerging from states, trying.
Everything is long and expensive and that’s just the way it is. And you cannot really. Put everything in question. And then gradually in the space sector, you had people saying, ah, instead of having these big geo stationary satellites, why don’t we have small modular satellites? And then you had a couple of billionaires coming, like, Elon Musk of course, with a specific saying, yeah, I’m gonna make a brand new rocket and reuse it, et try.
And everybody thought he was squeezy, but. Look at now that trend has created a whole new sector. It hasn’t replaced the previous sector. It has come on top of it. So it’s a whole new flourishing market. And then when I got interested, in the nuclear sector, so exactly the same, replacing big power plant by small modular reactors like we have.
Small modular satellites and and yeah. And then Bill Gates saying, yeah, I like nuclear. I’m gonna put a lot of money on a new design for our reactors. Right? So it’s exactly the same actually. And the more times go by the time goes by, the more I realize that yeah, far this early intuition is really confirmed that, okay, there is something happening in the nuclear sector.
A lot of innovation is pouring in into the nuclear sector. And so I thought, okay. Original intention is to save the planet, but then at, the same time. I know that a lot of people made a lot of money betting on these early space startups. So why don’t I make money while the yeah, let’s launch event, facilitate the emergence of all these new startups coming into.
[00:07:56] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome.
[00:07:57] Guerric de Crombrugghe: I’m not that motivated by money. Deep down, I’m really more a technical nerd, but I need to talk about that too. Otherwise I’m not credible. Inventor capital.
[00:08:08] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Right. You gotta make money along the way, but it helps, you listen or, focus on kind of the more technical side too.
Yeah. So, Cool. Perfect. So, you’ve got an accent, Gar, where are you from? It’s certainly not an American accent.
[00:08:21] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. No, I got a really strong accent. I’m very self-aware. So, Belgium, so it would be a French accent. French speaking Belgium. So I did my PhD thesis in Australia at the University of Queensland.
I never picked up the OC accent, so, I guess. I’m with that accent forever. Yeah. That’s it. Yeah.
[00:08:40] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Well, we’ll talk a little bit more about Belgium, but let’s focus on Nuketech for now. So, nuclear’s hard or has been in the past was that daunting for you when you were thinking about VC fund?
Like, how’d you get around that idea?
[00:08:54] Guerric de Crombrugghe: You mean, how did you make the connection between the nuclear sector and creating a VC fund? Yeah, ,
[00:08:59] Mark Hinaman: asking a different way. The, the conventional wisdom was Don’t invest in hardware. It’s challenging.
And then don’t invest in industries that are heavily regulated. There’s long lead times. It’s hard to get your hurdle rates. Like, why would you be interested? Or, try and start this.
[00:09:19] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, so it’s a really good question. Thanks. Well, first of all, if it was easy, everybody would do it.
So opportunity. Yeah, exactly. So that’s one Second maybe, something else that comes on top of it. This farm I come from, the start of relaunch was about launching satellites in space, so it was also deep tech focused. So the, and, but maybe a third element is and I didn’t mention that to novo within.
Venture capital we go for, the innovations we look at are very VC friendly. So we’ve divided our investment focus in in four different segments. And the three first segments are really akin to what you might call Industry 4.0. And Darin, we focus on enabling technologies. So we look at digitalization.
So anything related to ai, cybersecurity, digital twins, et cetera. The second focus is robotics automation, computer vision, sensors, et cetera. And the third segment is hardware. And hardware is well civil engineering, construction in the largest sense. Right. And why did this three? Well, because everything is analog on the ground, so you need to digitize.
There are a lot of opportunities to deh digitize. Second, because there have been, so many progresses in robotics and automation, now it’s time to bring that in the nuclear sector as well. There is already a lot of it, right? But we can do so much more. And the third one is because, yeah, the cost of a nuclear, energy is driven by the overnight cost of construction.
So if you can reduce deconstruction costs or the civil engineering costs in general, well, you improve, everything. And these three segments, these three first segments are really v friendly. And the innovations we see therein are relevant for the nuclear industry, but for other industries as well.
So quite often we have startups. Have developed something for, the maritime sector and they come to us and they say, okay, it’s also relevant for the new nuclear sector. We like to get into that. So, that is okay. And then because we get a lot of exposure As one of the only VC funds in nuclear energy.
And also the name also, we coin the name NuTech. Like we have Space Tech, FinTech, climate Tech, well NuTech, it’s us, that’s it. So I like, yeah. Thank you. Thank you. So we get a fair level of exposure and that means that Anyone developing something that is purely nuclear will at some point type in Google venture capital in nuclear, and they will come across us because that’s, that’s just the way it is.
And so we get to see all of these projects as well. And and that means that we can really put a, high pass fit and only keep the best of the best, the most interesting ones. And so we will also focus on we, we will also invest in a couple of pure plain nuclear startups that are really, really added value with a fantastic team, et cetera.
And and that includes small modular reactors, of course, advanced reactors for sure, but also we see solutions for waste management. We see a lot of people working on the fuel cycle as well. And to me that is very interesting. Of course, in the media and so on, there is a lot of attention on. First of all, fusion and secondly, small modular reactors.
Okay, cool. Fair enough. But there is so much more on the fuel cycle. There is so much to do, so much innovation. You can bring so yeah. that’s the answer.
[00:12:42] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome. Existing plants and displacing existing technologies with new technologies, but then both at the from the instruments level and the digital application and existing facilities, and then, yeah.
Building new facilities.
[00:12:57] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. That’s what I fear a little bit. Sometimes. I’m not the only one to say this. Of course, your listener probably heard that already 10 or 20 times, but that’s what I fear a little bit with small modular reactors and this type of innovation is that sometimes it can be an excuse to say we, we’ll act later.
Oh yes, nuclear is school, but we’ll focus on small directors, which are. Way back down the line in, case
[00:13:21] Mark Hinaman: when there’s a whole industry that already exists and we need to service
[00:13:24] Guerric de Crombrugghe: it and, exactly. Exactly. And then there is also the marketing argument. Ah, my Morten soul director is safer. Like, no.
But what exists is safe. When, for example, my mom hears that I like to take my mom as an example of, the general public. But if you go to my mom and you tell her this new reor is safer, immediately she thinks, oh, the existing ones are not safe. No, they are safe. Yeah.
Sorry. I’m still there. It’s just my dog that wants to go out, but, I’m still there.
[00:13:58] Mark Hinaman: All good. Yeah, I actually think you might be using the mic on your computer. And so when you step away, at least it gets quieter,
[00:14:06] Guerric de Crombrugghe: so, ah, okay. Okay. Okay. Let me see if I can arrange
[00:14:10] Mark Hinaman: this. No worries.
I dunno if
[00:14:11] Guerric de Crombrugghe: I’m, I dunno. I cannot change while recording. Okay. Sorry.
[00:14:15] Mark Hinaman: Don’t worry. Yeah, no worries about it. So what’s the size of the fund time? If you can. Yeah,
[00:14:23] Guerric de Crombrugghe: no, no, no. Yeah. So we are aiming for a 15 million Euros fund. And so, and as I said we are in the fundraising process at the moment.
[00:14:32] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Yeah. Are, is there specific. Size of companies that you guys are looking at? I mean, timeline to deployment, like
[00:14:40] Guerric de Crombrugghe: what’s, yeah. So, you mean for us the timeline of deployment for orphans? Yeah. Yeah. Yep. Uh,
[00:14:47] Mark Hinaman: you, what, what are they, What’s the ideal candidate to partner with you?
I mean, it’s a small startup. A group of 10 people, two people, a hundred people, like. Yeah.
[00:14:58] Guerric de Crombrugghe: So, for the VC friendly cases, so, the three first segments I mentioned. Mm-hmm. Everything. Early stage, that’s for sure. So the tickets we intend to put are maximum up to 2.5 million, including the follow up.
So that would be early stage. And so, for the industry 4.0 cases, what we would be after is really basically a team of a couple of people that have developed a nice solution. There is already a technical demo or something, and ideally some commercial traction as well that is in the form of some early customers.
So, ideally post revenue and It’s quite often the case. So more often than not, we see that, okay, startups have already a fair amount of revenue. They just need more money to grow for the pure pay case. So, these are much more ambitious, of course you need a lot of cash to deploy a reactor, et cetera.
And so for these cases What we would look at is, of course, the team, but also the partnerships that have established I don’t know if you are developing a new type of fuel. Okay. Have you already started discussing with the existing fuel manufacturers? What kind of uhi have you signed, et cetera.
And commercial traction as well. But then again, in the form of Lois or a big utility that said, okay, I’m interested in what they do and I’d like to purchase it when it’s available, just to make sure that it’s not just a take push of, a few engineers in a, garage. Ah, this is cool. let’s do this.
[00:16:24] Mark Hinaman: people are gonna love it. It’s gotta be the coolest stuff ever. And then, yeah. Yeah. I’ve
[00:16:30] Guerric de Crombrugghe: I’ve seen that a lot. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
[00:16:34] Mark Hinaman: Are there any companies that you’re excited about or can you share if you’ve invested in a, couple companies or, yeah.
[00:16:39] Guerric de Crombrugghe: So there are many companies we are excited about. I don’t want, so right now we receive approximately four to five startups a week. All active in the, yeah. Yeah, much better than I imagined because these fourt five are actually active in the nuclear sector and qualify as startups sometimes.
We have startups that are way too big for us that come to us. The big names. I’m not gonna cite any, but you know the, usual suspects when they fundraise? Yeah, yeah. When they fundraise they, yeah. More often than not, they actually came to us and asked us to invest and then we tell them no.
Defending Ron now is way too big. We are more on the early stage, not on the growth stage. And then they say, yeah, but if you put. Even half a million, it can convince the bigger private equity players, et cetera, that what we’re doing Makes sense. Because this fund that knows about the market technology and regulatory framework of nuclear, this fund believes in us, right?
So that’s, for us, it’s really a big success. We will not do it anyway because that’s not what we do, but but you know, it’s always nice to hear. So yeah, so we see a lot of things. And there is currently a lot to be excited about. That I can tell you there is a lot to be excited about.
Lots of cool innovation. Yeah.
[00:17:53] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So Belgium specifically that when I’ve looked at it before nuclear seems to be somewhat of a dirty word. I mean, is that true? Is my interpretation true? Let’s give us some color on that.
[00:18:07] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Well, it depends a little bit who you ask. Of course. But it’s true that, Belgium is I hope no one that matters on political level is gonna listen.
But Belgium tends to be, because we are really small, we tend to just look at what the big guys are doing. So we follow either France or Germany. Yeah. And in this case, we follow Germany. That’s, so I would say that’s really the bottom line of it. Which is a bit sad because, historically, Belgium is a really important player in the nuclear sector.
And basically, It all stems from the fact that we had uranium mites at the beginning of the previous century in qa. Okay. And that uranium was important for the United States in the UK for obvious reasons. Yeah. It was actually one of the only supplies, I think, if I’m not mistaken, back then, because uranium was it was back when uranium was in as a was basically it’s a byproduct.
That you can use to put in uranium glass to make it a little bit green. It’s colorful, it’s nice, but it didn’t have much use. And, so all of a sudden it was of strategic importance for the United States and then for the UK as well. And so, they signed an agreement altogether saying, okay, all of the Belgium uranium is for us.
And in exchange at some point, if there are civilian applications of nuclear technologies, we’ll give you something in return. We don’t know what yet. It was very ill-defined, but we’ll see. You will receive something in return and then it actually happens. The United States had set up. A major resource center we have in a veteran called the S E K C N is basically the Center for Research in Nuclear Energy.
So it’s a thousand people. So it’s quite s sizeable in which we had three nuclear reactors. Now we only have two left. One of them is for material testing. The other one is for radio isotope product production. The third one. That has been dismantled was actually the first P W W R in Western Europe.
And it was also the first one to be fully dismantled. So it served as kind of the baseline at the European level on how to dismantle our rector.
[00:20:11] Mark Hinaman: Why did they decommission it or dismantle it?
[00:20:14] Guerric de Crombrugghe: I think so the intention, was to first build that one.
And then based on that one, I think they build the nuclear apartment in show between France and Belgium. And then they build the seven nuclear rectors we have not all still operational, but, it was never meant to be in there for the long run. And actually, so that was seen as an opportunity.
Okay, let’s make sure we have a full understanding of the entire lifecycle. And now, that we built it, we operate it, let’s dismantle it so that we are sure we know how to dismantle these racks. But so now in on the same side, you also have. At test site for deep geo, etcetera. So it’s a fantastic resource center.
So we really capitalized on that and we are really, we mattered, Belgium mattered in the international nuclear scene and then gradually we lost interest in nuclear. But yeah, hopefully it’s coming back. Yeah,
[00:21:07] Mark Hinaman: absolutely. Why does this dichotomy exist between France and Germany? Maybe that’s a deeper question.
[00:21:15] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, that’s a very complicated question.
[00:21:17] Mark Hinaman: But, like France, like, Nope, we’re going full in all in. This is a great idea. And Germany’s like, Nope, we’re bow out. Yeah. Yeah. We’re gonna burn more coal.
[00:21:28] Guerric de Crombrugghe: No. Yeah. I can’t imagine that looking at it from the United States may seem very strange what’s going on?
[00:21:36] Mark Hinaman: Kinda, but it’s also like we’ve got California in Texas and
[00:21:40] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, yeah. True, true. No, no, you’re right.
[00:21:42] Mark Hinaman: Same country, right?
[00:21:43] Guerric de Crombrugghe: That’s correct. Yeah. Yeah. And so now far, I don’t know if you know this, but we have basically at the EU level, there is a nuclear alliance with 12, 13 countries that are pro in nuclear and that really want to have nuclear in the green taxonomy Sweden.
Nuclear from hydrogen. Yeah, exactly. But also a lot of eastern countries, which is actually good news like Poland, the fact that Yeah. Yeah. The fact that Poland is it’s good that France is skin on nuclear, but it’s even better that Poland is skin on nuclear because they are heavy greenhouse gases.
Emission player. Yeah. So you have this pro nuclear group and then you have the anti-nuclear group, which is pro renewables. But it’s like, ah, we shouldn’t have branded ourselves as a pro nuclear because we are also pro renewables. So big economy, for example, Belgium is in both.
See we are in the pro group and the against group because why not?
[00:22:38] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, for Belgium, is that a stereotype
[00:22:40] Guerric de Crombrugghe: or? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We say that, we are the land of surreal surrealism. So yeah, we always do this type of stuff. Really, like, it doesn’t make any sense, but does it matter?
Not really. So it’s okay. And but so the, economy between France and Germany it’s hard to say because Germany was keen on nuclear at some point. It’s true that they have had a couple of scandals on waste management back in the seventies or eighties. I don’t remember exactly. So maybe that has created a kind of, a lack of appetite for nuclear.
And on the other hand, I mean, let’s not forget that France has the atomic weapons. France has nuclear submarines. So there is a strategic in interest for France that goes way beyond power generation. Yeah.
[00:23:24] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. It is so strange to me that, a country would be willing to cut down trees and, use biomass for energy instead of using crops.
Right? Like, man, we’re gonna just cut down forest and like Yeah, it’s very strange.
[00:23:43] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Fully agree, especially in Europe. Yeah, we organized an event with, Mark Nelson, who you must know. Yep. Most likely. So he came when. When we closed the, nuclear reactor in dual, in Thj, there was a big protest.
So he came to, show support. So we organized a fireside with him. It was really refreshing because we had all these so Nuc tech, we organized the small events with industry players and a couple of politicians and so on. And we tend to be very restraint when we talk about nuclear steel, And then Mark was there who, as you must know, he is very ative and loud and get outta my way.
[00:24:22] Mark Hinaman: I’m here to talk.
[00:24:23] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. But he said a couple of things that are, really true. And the first, the thing he said is okay being the fact that the United States is not doing nuclear. It’s sad, but it doesn’t matter too much because we have plenty of resources. The fact that Europe is not doing nuclear is.
An existent shell threat because you don’t have any resource. It’s your only way to have sovereignty over energy production.
[00:24:49] Mark Hinaman: You guys could frow, but
[00:24:52] Guerric de Crombrugghe: yeah, yeah, it’s true. We could fr. Maybe but I mean, at the end of the day, yeah, it was true. Oh, and that was a wake up call for a lot of people.
And then we talk about how the US now is very active in Eastern Europe western selling, selling records to put, and it’s like, yeah, that’s just the way it’s gonna be. You keep debating whether or not you are pro nuclear. Keep that debate alive. That’s a very good idea. And in the meanwhile, we take all of your good engineers to the United States to design plans that we’ll sell you back in a couple of years when you don’t have a choice.
[00:25:26] Mark Hinaman: Wouldn’t realize this was a good idea. Yeah. Yeah. That’s, that’s an interesting perspective. There’s some companies, like Last Energy comes to mind where they, don’t trust the US to do anything and so, they’ve already gone to Europe and they want to build more there. I mean, yeah. Do you think it’ll have Casper in Europe?
I mean, is this a better venue to try and build more nuclear?
[00:25:48] Guerric de Crombrugghe: I don’t know the situation in the United States well enough, but it’s true that yeah, I think Eastern Europe in particular is a very fertile ground for Decarbonation. And so I can’t imagine, of course there are so many opportunities there to go and build of, yeah, France is gonna be complicated because there is E D F.
But yeah, for the rest, no. Yeah, I, think we will, be building a lot, in Europe as well as in the rest of the world. Yes. So what’s
[00:26:14] Mark Hinaman: your perspective, Garrick, over the past, call it 10 years? What’s the energy industry been like in Europe? I mean, you alluded to Mark Nelson’s comments about not having a lot of resources and prices have spiked a bunch.
[00:26:27] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Well, it’s a good question. I’m not really in my comfort zone If we go on the macro energy questions. Sure. What I can say though is I think we tried the big renewable experiments yeah. And we see that it doesn’t really work, the full renewable experiment, it doesn’t really work.
And it brings us to situations where, for example, now so we have the beautiful North Sea fine. So beautiful, but you know, it’s it’s full of nature. So that’s the sea between the UK and Belgium, et cetera. So, and now actually. Our Minister of Energy who is from the Green Party is congratulating herself because they’re going to transform the North Sea in the biggest energy producing infrastructure in the world.
I don’t remember the exact word, but. This obsession with renewables come to a point where we are actually congratulating ourselves for our artificial making, artificial a very vast area of nature just to make power, and yeah, that, shows a little bit, I think the limit of the system, especially coming from the Green Party.
Yeah, so I think now we, we are slowly realizing that renewables are good. Of course we shouldn’t stop building renewable. They’re essential. Also need nuclear for sure. Gotcha.
[00:27:50] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So you guys are focused on nuclear in just Europe right now. Or according Europe. No, no, no, no,
[00:27:56] Guerric de Crombrugghe: no. Yeah. So, starting
[00:27:58] Mark Hinaman: in Europe, you look at the rest of the
[00:27:59] Guerric de Crombrugghe: world too.
Yeah, yeah. You write it on, the website. We mostly advertise Europe. Actually, maybe we should change that. Yeah, yeah. We should update that as well. That’s right. So I would say, so I said that we have four to five startups a week. I would say that one third of our deal flow is France.
Because I mean, France is this big atomic nation and also so, a lot of
[00:28:22] Mark Hinaman: people are already exposed to it. They already have.
[00:28:26] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Exactly, exactly. And then macro wanted to make it the startup nation as well. So there is also this intention to go ahead and and create startups, et cetera.
So one third comes from France. One third I would say come from the Anglo-Saxon world at large. So uk, Canada and the United States, and then one third from Europe. But so we do have more deal flow than we expected from the United States. And and I think we’ll Yeah, we will try to expand that a little bit because there is a lot happening in the United States as well, which is really interesting.
[00:28:58] Mark Hinaman: I’m curious about the contrast between like startups or people that approach you, and I’m kinda just curious about the, the people piece. Like, how are the French different from the uk, different from the Americans? Mm-hmm.
[00:29:11] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Most yeah, no, it’s a really good question. Most French would be French, Belgian.
In continental Europe, I think we are much more humble. So, okay, we take a, more a more restraint perspective. Yes. I’m here to build a business and it’s very safe. Don’t worry. In the United States is the complete opposite. Of course. Yeah. Okay. Moonshot. Let’s, it’s gonna be fantastic.
Let’s do it. So, okay. I’m forcing a little bit, but to a large extent it’s really like that. And actually most of the, moonshot stops we see are really in the United States. And for example, Small modular reactor developers quite often in the United States or even in Canada, they will be built in the traditional startup fashion.
So it’s really a team. And for example, the main shareholders are the founders and they build it like that on continental Europe. Immediately, you’ll see. So we start, but all of these companies have taken already 80% of the shares because they help us. So there is less this uh, so the, yeah, I, I think the, there’s
[00:30:16] Mark Hinaman: from American companies,
[00:30:17] Guerric de Crombrugghe: but there’s, yeah, yeah, yeah.
And but then sometimes you have a startup in France or in Continuer Europe that wants to play like the American. But then they overdo it. They don’t manage to notify the right balance, and they tell you, yeah, we are going to build 10,000 nuclear power plants and they’re going to be cheaper than coal and this.
And then you’re like, no, no, no, that’s too much. Don’t, it’s good to oversell a little bit, but not, not that much. That’s too much. That’s, and the UK would be in, in between really, as you would expect. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. That’s my experience. Huh.
[00:30:57] Mark Hinaman: Okay. I love it. I mean, as, an American, that’s kind of a loud, boisterous, and yeah, I feel like I fit that stereotype, so
[00:31:07] Guerric de Crombrugghe: to a certain extent it’s. I don’t know. we, which approach is, the best. But another dimension that is really interesting though is the I think I think in continental Europe we are more thinkers. And in the United States you are more doers, which is everybody knows that. But you also see that with the startup approach.
So, a startup in France presenting a project, we’ll show you all the simulations they did. And the calculations and the computation, et cetera, while in the US they will show you. Yeah, we built this in our garage and it’s fantastic. And honestly for that, I think we, in Europe, we need to learn to bend some steel, get out, get in the shade, and actually, Mixed of yeah.
[00:31:50] Mark Hinaman: That’s, that’s exciting. That’s a fun perspective. Is venture capital different meaning like from the finance side, the, I mean kind of the two and 20 model is classic in the us but, is there I don’t, different hurdle rates or different, I dunno, metrics
[00:32:05] Guerric de Crombrugghe: that. From the United States and Europe?
I don’t think so. And I wouldn’t be too sure, but we really took we want to be, nuclear is complex enough, so we really want to be our investment terms as split value as possible, so that’s Okay. Got it. Yeah, no questions about that. Let’s focus on nuclear and the added value. Yeah.
[00:32:26] Mark Hinaman: That makes sense.
So, if there’s gonna be more plants built in Europe then where are some of the first ones gonna be built?
[00:32:33] Guerric de Crombrugghe: So, now we see I don’t know where the first one will be built. I would assume. I would assume the Polish plans from Westinghouse. I’m not sure if they’re really the first ones but they were actually the latest to be announced with an actual contractor war.
Right. But then yeah, France the UK will be more Switzerland has plans the Nethers as well. Yeah. So, and, the list goes on and on, but I think the next one is foreign, but, I may be wrong. Maybe one of your listeners will say, no, no, no. That’s not true. Sure.
[00:33:10] Mark Hinaman: I’m curious I, when I’ve heard about, and when I’ve seen power plants in the US at least there’s.
Been a slow adoption of technology kind of modern technology, instrumentation, measurements, SCADA systems. It’s just been slow to come to nuclear. Is that the same case for Europe and is, I guess it’s a
[00:33:33] Guerric de Crombrugghe: bad option. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. But that’s actually, it’s true that I didn’t touch upon that, but that’s actually our investment thesis.
Yeah. So, our farm, so. I told you one of the stories on how we build Nitec, but actually another story and another way to look at it is there hasn’t been. Much innovation in the nuclear energy sector at large, since you could argue since ville maybe. But since Fukushima, definitely nothing has happened.
Nothing has changed, right? Oh, not much.
[00:34:05] Mark Hinaman: And all the rest of the world is just invading every day. You can
[00:34:08] Guerric de Crombrugghe: stop. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, we’ve, we’ve, and, but the rest of the world, but also some critical industries, the aerospace sector, the pharma sector, et right?
They’ve kept on innovating and developing tools and enabling tech to be more efficient, even in very high stake, high risk industries. They kept on innovating and. Okay, so that’s the status quo. And now we come at a point where all of the sudden we need to build at tremendous slots really fast.
There is the order book to build new powers is huge. In France, for example. That’s a nice administration. They already said, if we are to say, to do what the government ask us to do. So that’s what the industry said. We need to hire 10,000 to 15,000 additional workers in the nuclear sector per year.
So they’re missing a hundred thousand people. It’s huge. Yeah. So the bottleneck is not, the bottleneck used to be the, the politicians, but now the bottleneck is the industry. All of the is, ah, you want to build Oh, so much. Wow. I’m sorry. I can do it. I simply don’t have the resources to do it. And that’s where we come in the picture, because the good news is, okay, they cannot do it.
But the good news is there are so many low hanging fruits that we cannot now bring into the, the nuclear sector coming from other sectors like aerospace, like pharma, but and the rest that we can bring now in the nuclear sector to make things more efficient to build faster, better, more, et cetera.
That’s the idea. So you’re right. Not that much innovation in the car power plant, which is good news. Honestly. It’s good news, not only for us, but in general because the margin for improvement is huge and. There is actually a lot of traction from the nuclear sector itself as well to go ahead and build more if I and use these innovations.
The thing is they’re so busy with new build, long-term operations, etcetera, et cetera. They don’t have the time to innovate, so they’re really happy to see stakeholders like us making sure, don’t worry. We’ll make sure that innovation is coming and when it’s mature, you just you bite. Gotcha.
[00:36:15] Mark Hinaman: Would you say that’s the most impactful step that we could take as kind of capital investment in this space? Or is there something else that could move the needle further?
[00:36:23] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Well, I think it’s definitely a it’s peaceful. So the, capital investment part is really important. So, it’s really important to to keep on doing it and bringing the spirit of innovation in the nuclear sector and showing that we can actually do, do more and better.
And yeah. So that is definitely a very important part. And we are very happy to see newcomers coming in that space as well. And so that’s, one part. A second part I would say is in terms of communication. And again, that’s not new. But I think especially in Europe, we are really restrained when it comes to nuclear and it’s time to embrace the fact that nuclear energy is fantastic and be proud about it.
And actually, make it cool again, just show that it’s nice. It’s Yeah, it’s something we can rely upon with a very small environmental footprint. It’s almost magical. You have these hot rocks, you put them in water and they mix steam and then you have electricity. It’s fantastic. I mean, let’s, and yeah, so there is a big effort in terms of medication not to be always on the de defensive arguing why the shortcomings of nuclear.
Are not really shortcomings or are not that bad or how you mitigate them, but just talk about the positive points. And there are many examples of people that do that really well In the United States, I like to look at all the medications of generation, atomic and this kind of people. In France, actually, Han is doing a fantastic effort in terms of communication.
they have fuel, manufacturing. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. They have a, TikTok channel, et cetera. They make jokes, they did dramatize a little bit nuclear, like, okay, if I no need to be all serious about it, it’s a, yeah. and that is, going to change a lot the public acceptance.
And I think that if you have the public acceptance, which drives the politic, that is really the engine. And then in innovation. And so venture. Capital as part of innovation, acting as a catalyst. Yeah. And then, we’ll then manage to build more. Yeah.
[00:38:22] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. There’s money and finance and investors will take a lot of risks often.
But there’s almost nothing scarier than government and pol political and regulatory risk from
[00:38:34] Guerric de Crombrugghe: an investor. Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, it’s yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Fully agree.
[00:38:41] Mark Hinaman: The, the chance of your industry being shut down or your assets being seized is yeah. Continuous threat.
People get scared with that and rightfully so. Right. I hear you on like, okay, well we need this advocacy piece, right? That’s part of this podcast. It’s like, yeah, okay. how do we help add a voice and a positive voice to this
[00:39:01] Guerric de Crombrugghe: conversation? And Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. I hope that you, if you look at climate change, it used to be that All the media communication on climate change was a scientist from the I P C C and a climate denier.
And then they debate, is it real or not? And it’s very frustrating because yes, it’s real. Let’s talk about how we tackle it, and, now we don’t have that anymore. Now it has really shifted. If we talk about climate change in the media, it’s more on how do we act upon the fact that climate change is there?
What can we do? What are the priorities? And we can argue on the priorities. That’s much more constructive than arguing on whether it’s real or not. And my feeling is that slowly we are getting there With nuclear as well, it used to be, whenever there is a debate, his pro, he’s against, they fight.
And it’s frustrating because there, it’s not very constructive. And and now we come into a point, that’s my impression. Maybe we’re not fully there yet, but. We are coming towards the point where we can actually, in the media, talk about how we do the car. What are the priorities?
Is it SMRs? Is it fusion? Is it good old reactors? Is it I have my opinion, but I prefer we debate on these questions rather than on whether we have to do the car. Yeah,
[00:40:08] Mark Hinaman: you’re, you’re a step further in the debate then. Exactly
[00:40:12] Guerric de Crombrugghe: 10 years ago. But, it’s exactly what you do now with fire, artificial, right.
So, we don’t talk about whether or not we do nuclear. We talk about how to do nuclear. Right. Exactly. What other priorities. Yeah. It’s, so, yeah. Perfect.
[00:40:25] Mark Hinaman: How else can people help? What are the best steps that we can take to, to build more?
[00:40:30] Guerric de Crombrugghe: To build what? Sorry. To
[00:40:32] Mark Hinaman: build more nuclear.
[00:40:35] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Well, so, the public acceptance, driving the political support as the engine. I think so. That’s, but the engine is not enough and that’s where really the innovation comes on top of it as a, as a catalyst. So what can we do? It depends a little bit on who you are right.
So, there are a lot of Of citizen movements advocating for nuclear. So that’s one. If you feel like an entrepreneur, then launch a company or a Yeah. So these are all steps we, we can take, definitely. But I think for the general public, the first step is really to as, as always, to.
Educate yourself on what is radioactivity? Why should you be afraid of it? That story and listen to the scientists because if you listen to the scientists, they say to do more nuclear. So if we have to listen to the scientists about climate change, let’s do the same about energy policies.
[00:41:26] Mark Hinaman: solution. If we listen to him about the problem, listen to him about the solution. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:41:30] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Exactly.
[00:41:31] Mark Hinaman: And if, if you want to help, then yeah. Start a company and talk to new techs. Right. Like look for an investment.
[00:41:36] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. But it has happened a couple of times because, small modular directors and and whatnot are, are shiny.
So quite often we see entrepreneurs with this moonshot ambition of making a new erect ultra. And And you can see far, they don’t really have the right maturity or partnerships, et Right. And so we tell them, yeah, okay guys, it’s cool, but you can also focus on enabling tech to make it happen, et cetera.
And so, let’s not be to focus on the shiny objects, and let’s also look at what the nuclear sector actually needs. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:42:12] Mark Hinaman: So, Garrick, leave us on a positive note. What’s your vision of the future? Where’s the world going? What’s it gonna be like in 5, 10, 20 years?
[00:42:19] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Ah, yeah, that’s a very good question.
Actually my my vision for a positive future is shifting a little bit at the boat. Interesting. I used to, yeah, I used to be very into I will not say de-growth, but you know, so sobriety and so on.
[00:42:35] Mark Hinaman: Conservation, energy efficiency.
[00:42:38] Guerric de Crombrugghe: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Which I still think is very important. So I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna change too much my stance on that.
I think it’s important, but. This vision of a shrinking universe is slowly leaving me as I realized that actually energy abundance is important to pull people out of poverty to have good infrastructure and efficient healthcare system, et. So energy abundance is important.
So now I’m, That’s why it’s shifting. At the same time, I think there has. There is value in having a little bit of sobriety and for example not taking, the plane for any occasion et c but be more conscious about, okay, when do I need ready to travel by plane?
When is it important? Et So I think there is value into that, but at the same time, I think at the end of the day, if we wanted, we could have. Almost unlimited energy. so what is it really that I want? I’m not, too sure, but no matter what, vision actually editorializes, I think we need.
We need energy abundance that’s for sure. And nuclear can bring that. So my vision for the future would be a lot of renewables a lot of nuclear energy as much as can be of these big old one gigawatt reactors. And on top of that many SMRs if we want, why not? That’s cool.
And then we’ll have, the necessary energy basis to actually explore solutions to climate change, et cetera, et cetera. I think
[00:44:05] Mark Hinaman: I love it. That’s a great place to leave it. Gar. Thanks so much for your time. Thank you. Cool.