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Crazy for ConTech with Mateo Zimmermann, Cemex Ventures


Welcome to ‘Crazy for ConTech’ with Romey Oulton, a Q&A focused on the Construction Technology Industry. 

This Q&A series is an opportunity for our Head of ConTech, Romey Oulton, to discuss all things construction technology with key players who are championing innovation and digitalisation in the construction space. 

This week we have been in touch with Mateo Zimmermann, Investment Manager at Cemex Ventures.

Cemex Ventures is the corporate venture capital (CVC) and open innovation unit of Cemex, a leading sustainable construction materials and solutions company with a global trading network of almost 100 countries. With our clear vision for the next frontier of sustainable living, we invest and partner with the most promising startups to fulfill our mission of driving the construction industry revolution. #BuildingABetterFuture

Can you walk us through your journey from your early career to your current role as an investment manager/board member in a venture capital firm?

  • I studied industrial engineering and management because I didn’t know what to do as an adult. Engineering because I like problem solving and management, because it always sounds good.
  • Then I started working at a private equity and asset management company. Very nice place, but it was too financial, and again, I like to solve problems.
  • Then did a small detour working in one of the first online marketplaces for clothes, which offered consulting for startups. That was a small gig, but it did ignite something inside.
  • Then I was recruited at BCG, which is when I became an adult. The best learning experience you can have. And I started learning about BIM and tech adoption in construction with some construction customers and got interested in the ConTech space
  • In 2017 I joined Cemex Ventures, which was one of the first CVCs in construction. At the beginning we did not know exactly what we were doing, some investing, some incubations, etc. and then we started to professionalize the different activities and then we set up a proper VC activity. 


What inspired you to pursue a career in venture capital, and how did you initially break into the industry?

It’s interesting that no one ever asked me that…

It’s been a combination of things:

  • When I worked in Private Equity and later advising startups, I realized how difficult it is for European companies to launch a new business. There was a lack of financing options for new businesses, only bank loans.
  • I saw a lot of people with a lot of talent, but needed the education, training and skillset to become entrepreneurs.
  • A lack of entrepreneurs is a huge problem for the economy.
  • VC does give the possibility to entrepreneurs to build companies that solve our biggest challenges. I think that’s beautiful.
  • I’d love to be an entrepreneur, but because of my risk profile and because I have never had that “Aha” moment, I’m here. So kudos to the entrepreneurs out there. 


What key lessons have you learned from both your successes and failures in the venture capital world?

  • The learnings are always greater from the failures than the successes… I always like entrepreneurs who have failed in the past. In Europe, we are still scared of failure. It’s a topic we can’t even mention. But I really believe it makes you stronger.
  • Team, team and team is key. Did I mention team? And hiring will become key to scale the business. Hiring the wrong person is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
  • Storytelling: especially for those Europeans that are out there. A good story sells better than 1000 slides. Always control the narrative.
  • Use the money wisely. You either have a stellar growth of at least 100% yoy, or you will need to be careful with spending.
  • Timing is key. Think about the key milestones of the business. How long is it going to take you to get to the next phase?
  • Execution is key. You have limited time to show results or pívot.
  • I think we shouldn’t think about VC as the answer always. In businesses, there has to be a path to sustainability. Numbers have to get better, efficiency and profitability has to increase. 


What trends do you see emerging in the construction technology sector, particularly concerning sustainability, and how are they shaping your investment strategies?

  • Sustainability is clearly the biggest challenge of our era, so it’s becoming the largest trend. We used to say that Green is the new Digital. But it’s going to be much more.
  • But there are other key trends: AI (of course) and Infrastructure. Lack of skilled workers is one that I’m obsessed with.
  • And back to sustainability: A lot of the focus right now is on Decarbonization. But I think very soon we will be talking more about Circularity.
  • And Water is also one of my passions. Water is an interesting one: it’s cheap and the economic model is challenging for innovation in water. But someday the water will be cut off, and then water will have the value of an oil barrel.
  • Infratech: I feel like a lot of innovation has gone to residential construction because there’s a huge gap in housing across the world. But it will be interesting to see more companies focusing on Infrastructure in the coming years. I’m looking forward to it. 


How do you balance the potential for financial returns with the environmental and social impact goals of sustainable construction technology startups?

  • We have our ESG targets and commitment with United Nations PRI. We do an ESG DD and expect companies to improve over the years as they mature.
  • There’s no financial return huge enough to compensate for a negative environmental and social impact.
  • Actually, we strongly believe sustainable practices make companies more robust and prepared for the future. Even for hiring talent, people want to work in companies that have a purpose, so they have a purpose to improve the world we live in. 


How do you navigate regulatory hurdles and market barriers when investing in sustainable construction technology startups, and what strategies do you employ to mitigate these risks?

  • We try to find the opportunities that are favored by regulatory changes and improvements. Eg. Vizcab (RE2020 in France).
  • Regulation is very slow, so it might be tricky for startups to wait for PMF once the regulation comes.
  • On the other hand, regulation changes open the window for new business models. It requires the businesses to change, and a startup can help with that and use that opportunity.
  • Innovation is change, it’s improvement, so there’s no better excuse for a change than regulation. 


Can you discuss any recent success stories or milestones achieved by startups in your portfolio that demonstrate the viability and impact of sustainable construction technology?

  • Discussion about “Viability? Impact?”
  • WtEnergy: Horizon Europe awarded grant for Waste to Green Hydrogen on-site production of up to 95 kg/h at full scale
  • Carbon Upcycling: Was awarded £2.3 Million in funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for the world’s first commercial-scale cement additive plant that combines CO2 sequestration and waste glass, and Carbon Upcycling’s first project in Europe. 20,000TPY of mineralized Cement bypass dust (BPD), sequestering 4000TPY of CO2
  • Carbon Clean: Won the COP28 Energy Transition Changemaker award for its role in the Ørsted’s FlagshipONE project, Europe’s largest eMethanol plant that seeks to capture 70,000 tons of CO2 per year when it becomes operational in 2025.
  • Vizcab: Construction projects won’t be viable in Europe in the short term without a clear sustainability strategy, design, execution and detailed measurement. The only path is through a digital platform that helps you measure CO2 impact live while designing, and then approving the CO2 reduction goals to comply with carbon budgets. 
  • HiiRoc
  • Energy Vault


Why should entrepreneurs be looking towards the ConTech space? 

  • Construction Tech is growing from 0,4% of total VC in 2019 to 1,2% in 2023.
  • More VCs and CVCs are focusing on it
  • Construction is a critical industry for society – we build infrastructure, we build houses, hospitals and schools.
  • It’s a massive industry, around 14% of GDP
  • Sustainability brings a massive opportunity for our industry. Because we do 40% of GHG emissions, we have a great responsibility. It’s the challenge of our era.
  • We are still in the early days of Digitalization. A lot of new opportunities open up with Data Utilization, Automation and AI
  • If you don’t come from the industry or don’t know the industry in and out, be careful and be humble. It’s a complex industry and you need to be close to the players to understand it. And be passionate about it!


Growth plans for Cemex Ventures: 6 months, 1 year, 3 years 

  • We are investigating new trends and areas for opportunity: Circularity, Water, Infratech, more Decarbonization opportunities, etc. we hope to close investments and partnerships in those areas.
  • In the long term, I believe we will be doing more activities in Open Innovation: launching specific challenges, having a lab, a plant or a space for companies to try new stuff, etc.
  • We still have to work to get innovation to the top of mind of our business. That innovation is not a nice to have, it’s necessary to improve, to develop, to survive. I’d like to have more innovation in our businesses, more risk taking, more scaling, more daring new stuff. We need people that are curious, that want to change the status quo and get out of the comfort zone. 


What is your favourite quote? If you could have dinner with any two famous people, dead or alive, who would you choose?  

  • Quote will be a surprise (there has to be some mystery).
  • Two famous people:
    • Antonio Gaudi (Architect) – innovation in geometry, structure, materials and recycling. 
    • Amancio Ortega (Businessman)

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