Stefan Beiten is a lawyer, serial entrepreneur, film producer, business coach and co-author of his very own methodology. He studied in Munich, Berlin, Los Angeles and Berkeley and is the father of three children. He divides his time between Berlin, Amsterdam and the USA. With his investment holding Argo Ventures, he has founded more than 20 companies on two continents since 1986, and has structured and placed 20 investment funds with more than $ 1.1 billion in total investment. With his company Greenlight Media, Stefan has produced more than 150 episodes of TV animation and global hits such as Deep Blue and Planet Earth. Stefan’s business philosophy is simple: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
As an entrepreneur, Stefan Beiten has experienced great successes and overcome considerable challenges. These include steering his companies through the major global economic crises of 2001 and 2008, restructuring and launching his CIG Wireless LLC in the US, defending it successfully against hostile takeovers and reinventing itself each time. As an active angel investor, he has been involved in successes such as Gate5 / HERE Maps and had to deal with disappointments like Txtr. He is currently focusing his operational company builder activities in the Argo Venture Studio, where he is working with young co-entrepreneurs and other digital natives. His partners are currently convinced of the successful future of their start-ups, Stegimondo and Kardea, as well as half a dozen other digital companies.
Stefan Beiten was born into an entrepreneurial family. Early on, he discovered his passion for entrepreneurship: At the age of 16, he became the first ‘bicycle doctor’ in Germany, and from there starting to lead a whole team of classmates who came to customers’ homes to repair their bicycles.
At the age of 16
First bicycle doctor in Germany
At 18, during his senior year at the Oskar-von-Miller Gymnasium in Munich, Stefan Beiten crossed the US$ 1 million mark in sales for the first time by exporting German high class cars to California for which he had founded a joint company with a former classmate of his former Los Angeles high school. Stefan later on sold his shares to his business partners.
First sales million through the export of German cars
Stefan Beiten worked on his next business idea while studying for his high school diploma in 1986. At night, he soldered together the mother boards of a home-made sound mixer system for DJs in the basement of his parents’ apartment and sold the devices after school. Further production was discontinued in favor for his high school exam (Abitur).
Abitur and sale of self-built DJ mixing systems
Immediately after leaving high school, Stefan turned his passion for photography and marketing into a career. In 1986, he founded the advertising agency “Images” to finance his law and history studies at the Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich. The agency quickly grew to over 20 employees and became known for innovative advertising campaigns for Philip Morris and Radio 7. When it came to taking his first qualifying exam as a lawyer, he sold the agency to his partners in order to prepare for his legal career. The company eventually merged with DDB Group.
Founding of the advertising agency, “Images”
Law and history studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
The advertising agency’s subsidiary, „Syndicat de la Mode“, grew from a customer advertising account in 1987. It became one of the first specialist companies in Germany to use textiles as merchandising items and quickly became the largest of its kind in Germany. With customers from Armani to BMW, the company is still successfully operating today.
Subsidiary “Syndicat de la Mode”, first specialised company for merchandise articles
Stefan Beiten took up a legal position in Los Angeles in 1993 at the firm Chrystie & Berle and advised clients in the film industry on issues of financing film projects. His permanent mandate was to restructure the film investments of Credit Lyonnais which lost tens of billions of dollars in Hollywood in the early 1990s. In the process of this mandate, he controlled a film rights portfolio of over 2,000 titles. Stefan Beiten then created the opportunity for a major German media company to build its own film studio based on this portfolio. During this tenure, Stefan acquired extensive expertise in film financing, restructuring, and the inner workings of the international film industry. At the same time, he also studied comparative law at the University of California in Los Angeles, Davis and Berkeley. He moved to Berlin to finish his studies at the Freie Universität and passed law school in 1995.
Law firm Chrystie & Berle in Los Angeles
Restructuring of Credit Lyonnais’ investments
Studied in Los Angeles and Berkeley
1st State Law Examination in Berlin
In 1996 Stefan Beiten joined the investment bank ABN Amro Bank in London and their media team. In the same year, he founded Argo Ventures, at that time still a private investment company. The first project was the Greenlight Media Film Production. With Greenlight he began the production of the animated series Simsalagrimm, which he developed as an author himself, inspired by an idea of his daughter Zoe. Stefan arranged the financing of Simsalagrimm with the help of an innovative gap financing structure which was new for the German film industry. This novel structure transferred concepts from real estate financing to the media world, working together with the bank partner Reuschel & Co in Munich. Stefan also decided to continue his legal career parallel with his entrepreneurial ambitions and became a fully licensed attorney 1998 in Berlin, where he was now living with his wife and daughter.
Investment Bank ABN Amro Bank
Founding Argo Ventures
Greenlight Media GmbH’s first project: Simsalagrimm
Admission to the bar
With the completion of the animation series Simsalagrimm on the basis of the Grimm fairy tales in 1999/2000 and the subsequent global success of the format, Stefan and Argo Ventures developed the BAF animation fund with a capital of 168 million deutschmarks for the investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. In 2001, Argo Ventures then designed the BAF II successor fund with a volume of DM 240 million, which, like its predecessor, was also backed by a Dresdner Bank guarantee. Initial takeover bids were discussed, and an IPO was not excluded. “The sky is the limit” was the motto of this entrepreneurial era. In 2000, Stefan’s second daughter Lynn was born.
Development of the BAF Animation Fund I and II, total capital 408 million DM
Birth of Stefan’s 2nd daughter
Soon afterward, however, the friendly skies of this positive entrepreneurial climate became ominously dark. In 2001/2002, in the wake of the dotcom and media crisis, the Kirch Group and most of the other New Media-listed media companies became insolvent. Consequently, the banks withdrew abruptly from financing of film productions. This caused the co-production partners of the BAF Film Fund running into economic difficulties which caused them to be unable to fulfill their co-production contributions. As a result, and after tough negotiations but with great success, Greenlight Media sold its stake in the fund in 2002 to the fund initiator, Dresdner Bank and its investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. The bank did not follow Greenlight Media’s favoured strategy, but instead planned to merge its entire European media investment into one platform. The portfolio of the planned BAF II fund went back to producer John Williams, also contrary to the proposed Greenlight strategy. Williams then produced, among other projects, the world successes of the Shrek film series, which now benefitted the Hollywood Studio and not the BAF Fund.
Dotcom and media crisis
Sale of shareholdings and Dresdner Bank
Argo Ventures then continued the strategy of Greenlight Media alone. After a complete restructuring of the business model and reduction of the company to a core entrepreneurial team of a few partners and employees, Greenlight bought the international film distribution company Peppermint in 2003 with a film library of more than 1,000 titles from the insolvency estate of Helkon Media AG. This allowed Greenlight to expand its international presence in the film business and to cooperate with media giants such as Dentsu and Gaga Group in Japan. Subsequently, Greenlight produced various international documentary and animation film and television projects.
In 2002 Stefan and Juliane married after being together for 10 years. In 2003, their son Jacob was born.
Acquisition of the international film distributor Peppermint
Production of several film and television projects
Marriage and birth of son Jacob
In 2005, Argo Ventures negotiated, structured and funded a revolutionary five-picture deal for Greenlight Media with BBC Worldwide to produce five combined nature-based TV and cinema productions. To concentrate on this joint venture, Greenlight sold its stake in Peppermint to the management. Greenlight Media’s concept brought the nature documentary film to the big screen. As a result, the combination of TV series and feature film with spin-offs such as live concerts were able to become a major global media event. Even the very first project, “Blue Planet”/”Deep Blue”, achieved box office records with over US $ 30 million and was able to establish nature documentary movies as suitable for cinema. From 2008 onwards, media history was written with the follow-up project “Planet Earth”. Millions of DVDs and over $110 million box-office revenues speak for themselves. Stefan produced more than 150 episodes of TV Animation and surpassed the US$200 million mark at the box office globally with all his movie projects.
Both in 2005 and 2008, Greenlight Media movie projects each accounted for more than 50% of all export earnings of the entire German film industry together.
Revolutionary five-picture deal with BBC Worldwide with Deep Blue as its first project
2008 Planet Earth
Millions of DVDs sold and more than US $ 200 million in box office revenues
In 2005 and 2008, these constitute 50% of the export earnings of the entire German film industry
Planet Earth is now regarded as having paved the way for nature documentary features film worldwide. In 2008, the project also enabled the founding of Walt Disney’s new movie label, Disney Nature. In 2016, Argo Ventures and Greenlight Media structured the successor Filmproduktion, the co-production Planet Earth II between the BBC, Disney and Shanghai Media Corporation. The TV series was broadcast in 2017 and the movie will be released in cinemas worldwide in 2018.
In 2005, TV broadcasters ARD and France 2 gave the green light for a second season of the hit series Simsalagrimm, which was completed in 2007. Now running at 52 episodes, the series is still one of the long-running hits on the ARD channels and is one most well known German children’s brands. The series has been broadcast in over 100 countries all over the globe.
Second season of the hit series Simsalagrimm
Founding of new movie label from Walt Disney: Disney Nature with Planet Earth as the premiere film
In total, Stefan Beiten has produced over 150 episodes of TV animations and several animated and documentary films in various producer functions. With Simsalagrimm, Deep Blue and Planet Earth, he has created three world hits with his Greenlight Media which are considered classics today.
In addition to setting up Greenlight Media, he became the largest active angel investor of Gate 5 AG with his Argo Ventures in 2003. He helped the startup fund and shape its new business model: the first company to bring digital maps to mobile phones. This business model became an overwhelming success after Gate 5 sharply pivoted after the 2001 dotcom bust, in the subsequent years more technical and financial cliffs were also narrowly avoided. At the end of 2006, Gate 5 had a working product in the market and was successfully sold to Nokia for €150 million. This exit sparked the Berlin start-up scene seeing their first major international exit, which would later generate billions in sales. Today the company belongs to a consortium of German automobile manufacturers under the name “Here”, whose technology enables the industry to make the quantum leap to the autonomous automobile of the future.
Largest active angel investor in Gate 5 AG
Sale of Gate 5 to Nokia for € 150 million
2005 was also the birth of another portfolio company of his Argo Ventures, the Berlin Atlantic Group. Being the largest investor with € 15 million in equity capital contribution, Argo Ventures was represented by Stefan in the group’s strategic holding. In the following years, the Berlin Atlantic Group grew to become one of the 10 largest closed-end issuing houses in Germany, concentrating on three investment fields in Germany and the USA.
For Berlin Atlantic, Argo Ventures structured the Life Trust and Infra Trust Fund Series, supporting their placement with a total capital of € 285 million. The life trust funds were a true innovation in the life insurance industry in the US. For the first time these funds enabled policyholders, rather than the insurer, to participate in the inherent value of their insurance policies. Argo Ventures managed the first life trust funds on behalf of the Berlin Atlantic and achieved successful exits valued US $ 19.8 million.
In June 2008, Stefan and Argo Ventures structured a US $ 500 million warehouse credit agreement with Wachovia Bank. The beneficiary was LTAP LLC, a subsidiary of the Life Trust Funds. The line of credit was part of Wachovia’s US $ 2 billion strategic investment as the seventh largest US bank that guaranteed LTAP LLC and its German investors a capital-market exit worth billions.
Birth of the BAC – Berlin Atlantic Group
Argo Ventures becomes the biggest investor in BAC with € 15mn
Argo Ventures structured the Life Trust and Infra Trust Funds Series, totaling € 285 million
First successful fund exit values of US $ 19.8 million
US $ 500 million credit line with Wachovia Bank, structured exit of US $ 2 billion
With this milestone in his entrepreneurial activities achieved under a sunny blue entrepreneurial sky, unforeseen storm clouds soon followed him, forcing Stefan to spend several years of rerouting his ship through severe thunderstorms and sharp cliffs that almost threatened his business existence:
At the end of 2008, the Berlin Atlantic Group got into in trouble as a result of the financial crisis triggered by the Lehman Bank. As a result, Wachovia was forcibly merged with the Wells Fargo. Finally, in 2010 Wells Fargo terminated the loan agreement with a subsidiary of the Berlin Atlantic Group, the LTAP LLC, and foreclosed on portions of the assets of the LTAP in 2011.
But that’s not all: at the same time, the company was attacked from the inside. The recently departed CFO, Oliver Schulz, turned out to be a corporate raider positioned within BAC by third parties. He was steered by well-known backers in the German economic and political scene. Schulz and his backers took advantage of the Berlin Atlantic crisis: they launched a series of ultimately unsuccessful hostile takeover attempts against the Infratrust funds and their assets between 2010 and 2013 . To ward off these attacks, Stefan Beiten moved to Atlanta with his family on behalf of the investors at the end of 2011 and dedicated himself to the restructuring efforts for the next few years. In terms of private life, Stefan’s family had to pay a high price: The marriage did not survive, after 23 years of relationship, the burdens of this hard time.
Because of these attacks, which were led by his opponents by all means of the digital information war and methods of professional corporate hitmen, as a consequence the operational activity of the Berlin Atlantic had to be stopped in 2011. The facts and background have been compiled by investors of the Infratrust Funds on the BAC Information website and have been fully endorsed by various court decisions and rulings. The attackers finally succumbed and are still on the run from the bailiff in Burma and South Africa.
The issuing house Berlin Atlantic Capital AG was sold in 2012 to the Hamburg ID Immobilien AG. Argo, however, had to write off large parts of its investments in the BAC funds. The partner Franz-Philippe Przybyl and his ILMG Management GmbH took over LTAP and the Life Trust funds. Franz-Philippe also was also commissioned by the Life Trust investors to merge the assets of the Life Trust Funds and LTAP into a joint business led by him.
Already in 2011, Stefan Beiten managed to sell the majority in CIG Wireless, a subsidiary of Berlin Atlantic in the USA, to the Swiss financial investor Enex SA and refinance the corporation with US $ 20 million. Together, Argo and Enex then listed CIG on the New York stock exchange. In addition, Macquarie Bank New York granted the company a US $ 150 million line of credit in 2012. This enabled the company to embark on a rapid growth course. This was followed by a series of further major transactions totaling just under $ 70 million. With the entry of financial investors Housatonic and Firtree, CIG’s corporate value was eventually increased to $ 140 million which exited by a reprivatisation and tradesale in 2015, giving its institutional investors a net profit of over $ 90 million in just under three years.
2008 world financial crisis hits the Berlin Atlantic Group
Wachovia Bank goes into crisis and merges with Wells Fargo
2010-2013 Defense against unfriendly takeover attempts
2011 Family relocation to Atlanta
2011 Cessation of operations of the Berlin Atlantic
2012 Sale of Berlin Atlantic Capital AG and LTAP
Sale of CIG Wireless to Enex SA, refinancing with US $ 20 million
Macquarie funds CIG with US $ 150 million
Additional equity financing of US $ 70 million
Exit at CIG with over $ 90 million in profit
In 2015, one of Argo Ventures’ most promising projects had to close its doors – “Txtr”. Argo was able to get 3M New Ventures as principal investor on board for the company in the years before and even made a significant investment as an angel investor. Despite building the world’s second-largest e-book rights catalog, Txtr had to join the likes of Barnes & Noble, Sony, and other major players who all had to leave the market place not being able to gain enough market share against Amazon’s Kindle.
However, the entrepreneurial sun began to shine again when Infratrust Funds 6 & 8, for which Argo Ventures and asset manager Stephan Brückl put under the helm of their asset management, turned it into a successful 2016 restructuring project with a 135% profit through a trade sale for more than $ 28 million. With that sale, the value of the assets from the time of the take over by Argo was increased by a multiple of 4.
3M New Ventures as Principal Investors for Txtr
Defeat of “Txtr” by Amazon
Successful restructuring of Infratrust Funds with 135% profit for investors
In 2016, Stefan Beiten decided to take Argo Ventures to a new level. With his young partners Sascha Grumbach and Stefan Söllner, he restructured Argo Ventures and created the Argo Venture Studio.
At the core of the Argo Venture Studio is Argo Ventures as active venture builder. In addition, the venture advisory Argo Advisory was founded, which offers training and consulting for cultural and digital transformation. Customers of Argo Advisory include the Walt Disney Company, Kaiser Permanente and many other industry leaders. The investment activities of Argo Ventures have been moved to Argo Capital.
In early 2017, Stefan sold his stake in Greenlight Media to his founding partner Nikolaus Weil.
Also in 2017, Argo Capital restructured a joint investment portfolio of two Family Offices with a volume of € 150 million and took over its asset management.
As an Angel Investor, Argo Ventures and Stefan Beiten are currently involved with Argo Ventures in Stegimondo and many other Berlin start-up companies
Additionally, Stefan is heavily involved in various roles at the YPO Organization, the largest entrepreneurial organization in the world with around 25,000 CEOs as members, whose Berlin chapter he co-founded in 2010.
2019 marks a milestone in Stefan’s entrepreneurial history. 5 years after he initiated “The Argonauts”, an internationally successful group of entrepreneurs, the community grew from 19 initial founding members to 100 and decided to open its platform to a few selected people outside the initial tight-knit community. Formed with the intention to create a global community based on a new entrepreneurial identity, “The Argonauts” fuels its members to bring innovation to life – for profit or not – encompassing business, social activities and the arts.
Founding of the Argo Venture Studio
Work on Argo Advisory as venture advisory and transformation consultancy, and Argo Capital for structured financial solutions
Sale of shares of Greenlight Media
New assembly of two Family Office Portfolios with a value of US$15m
Investment als Angel Investor in many Berliner start-ups such as “Kardea” and “Stegimondo”
Co-founder of YPO Berlin
Opening up “The Argonauts” to people outside the circle of founding members