Ilonka Jankovich, venture partner at the Randstad Innovation Fund, is responsible for building an ecosystem in HR tech, making investment decisions and developing strategy for the fund. Since launching in March 2014, the venture capital fund has partnered with startups like Brazen, Crunchr, Gigwalk and HackerRank to fuel innovation in the HR industry. Jankovich recently spoke with Staffing Industry Analysts about how she came to manage the fund and her plans for it going forward.

Jankovich, IlonkaYou went from a lawyer to a staffing firm entrepreneur to managing funds now. Can you talk about how those transitions came about?

I was an M&A lawyer for 10 years at a big law firm, Clifford Towns. I was about to become a partner but I felt that there was too much to combine being a partner at a law firm and with a family; it’s not that easy. And then I had the idea to focus on temporary lawyers — to give contracting work to lawyers so that women would able to combine their family life better with the legal work — and that’s what I did. I started [Legal FlexForce], which I sold to Monster and TMP in 2001; it became the largest legal recruitment and contracting firm in Europe.

Then I moved to Hungary with my family, because I’m also Hungarian and to discover my roots, and decided to start another recruitment firm — ProfiPower — which became the largest in Hungary. That was acquired a few years ago by Randstad. Then I joined Randstad and became the country manager for Hungary and oversaw the integration of the firms.

Then I left to do some angel investments, which I found was quite a lonely profession, and I don’t like that. I like to be in the middle of where it’s happening! Then the idea came up to start a fund and to really look at the innovation in the space, and I manage the firm together with Paul Jacquin.

Tell me about the Randstad Innovation Fund. When it launched in March 2014, the fund targeted HR technology companies. Has that changed?

We only focus on HR tech companies. It’s about a €50 million fund. We invest in everything, which can make our processes more efficient. We invest on social media aggregation, assessment, onboarding —– all the different steps you have in recruitment starting from sourcing, screening, selecting, onboarding, learning, offboarding — the whole funnel. We try to assess each space in a very deep way. We do deep research in all these different spaces, looking at 20 to 30 companies in that space, and then make a decision in which one to invest in.

What is the typical investment amount and how many investments has the fund made?

The typical investment is between €1 million and €5 million, and we have made 13 investments so far. Our focus is on Europe and on the US; eight of our investments have been in the United States.

Why the lean toward the US?

The HR tech market is most evolved in the US. You see also with funding worldwide, most of the funding goes into the US. Also, with HR tech, I think the companies get the opportunity to develop themselves quicker because of the funding available. And also, the corporations are more open to using technology in the US and are faster to adopt. It’s just a market that is moving faster than the rest of the world.

What do you look for in potential investments? What kind of companies?

We always really look at the strategic fit. We recently invested in a company called hackerRank in the San Francisco Bay Area. We have a very strong IT and technology practice worldwide, and we were thinking, how could we assess the skills of developers in a better way, and also engage with them in a different way? And we got to know hackerRank and that is exactly what they do, so this is a very good strategic fit because this is something we need as a business but something our clients also need.

We always look at the strategic fit, and we also look at the team. Is the team good and experienced enough and do we think we could work with them in a real partnership in the future? So, there should be also a culture fit.

It’s strategic fit, it’s a culture fit, and then in the financials, of course we look at the business plan. It should make sense and we assess that as well. We look at how good the technology is. So these four items are our focus.

Any investments that you found particularly interesting or successful?

They all bring something very different and they also don’t overlap, so it is difficult to compare them. We have a company in the San Francisco Bay Area called RolePoint that makes it possible to do referrals in an alternative way. The good thing about that is if you are part of that program, then all sorts of suggestions about who could fit in an internal job are being made to you from your network. A large and very important channel for sourcing is referrals, so it’s strategic for us.

Another one, Pymetrics, is based in New York and they do gamified assessment — meaning that you do games for 10, 15 or 20 minutes maximum, and based on neuroscience, they can discover your personal traits and also match you to job opportunities. Again, it’s a different way of assessing but also of exploring your career.

Looking toward the future, what is ahead for the fund?

We are building and expanding our ecosystem. We have a very good ecosystem. All the startups we get to know — also the startups we invest in, venture capitalists, thought leaders and our clients —  are early adopters of technology, and we try to accelerate our learning in the space to really understand what kind of impact technology has on the HR industry. That is continuing. We want to invest every year in four to five companies, so we continue to do that.

And you personally, what are your plans?

I am very happy here. My plan is to continue doing this because this is something you have to do for a longer period of time — especially for those of us who are on the boards of some these companies. You get really involved in what they are doing and you want to see the success; success takes years and we want to be part of that success. Investment is not a short-term activity.

Any final thoughts?

It’s nice to do events with our clients and to have the dialog to discuss what is working, what is not working, with whom you should be partnering. There is a tsunami of technology coming toward us, and science as well, so what we also do is try to find the best of breeds in each category and offer them in an integrated way as a total talent architecture, so clients can also benefit from our learnings.