Innovative start-ups have to overcome many obstacles to grow into a success story. Fortunately, there’s a lot of support available to give them every opportunity in the start-up and scale-up phases. More information from Koen Verhaert, CEO of Verhaert, Masters in Innovation.
Why is it so important to support innovative start-ups?
“Nobody doubts the importance of innovation. It’s increasingly seen as the solution to just about every social problem. However, innovating isn’t easy. In fact, the success rate of innovation is statistically rather low. As a service provider, we therefore help companies and entrepreneurs to innovate successfully by taking a systematic approach. We do this extensively with corporations for both their core innovations and for developing adjacent products and new product lines. In addition, we support disruptive innovations that typically challenge the rules of a particular sector. That kind of innovation is best done in a start-up setting.”
What exactly does Verhaert do in that context?
“We launched the ‘MyStartUp initiative’ about four years ago. With this, we support start-ups all over Europe in their very first phase, that is conceptualizing and realizing a proof of concept, both on a technical and commercial level. We do this in the form of various local and international thematic incubation and acceleration programs, and in partnership with various European, Belgian and Flemish initiatives. More information about these thematic programs can be found at mystartup.be.”
“Specifically, we coach start-ups in data, medical and IoT applications and space technology to help them to receive government support. Moreover, we provide access to our engineering services at a discount rate. In this way, we have already helped about five hundred start-ups from Finland to Greece get off to a good start in recent years. So we can surely say that we are successful at this.”
The need for support does not end for start-ups after realizing a proof of concept.
Why did you choose to also collaborate with imec.istart?
“The need for support does not end for start-ups after realizing a proof of concept. To take the next steps in further developing and launching their product, they need venture capital and additional substantive guidance. Verhaert also wants to give substance to this. Preferably, we do not do this by investing directly ourselves, because that could lead to conflicts of interest. We therefore chose to collaborate with the imec.istart fund based on their proven track record as a leading business acceleration program and more than two hundred participants, their sector independence, and the corresponding market approach and complementarity in coaching towards business and product readiness.”
What type of start-ups do you specifically target with this?
“We focus our fund on young technology companies, but our substantive contribution is strongest in start-ups with a hybrid proposition with both a physical product and software. We have seen this type of company emerge more and more frequently at imec.istart in recent years because of the rise of IoT. Consequently, the fund broadened from software technology ventures to deep technology ventures. These ventures involve more physical products and therefore more substantial R&D and product development. Start-ups with concepts in IoT, life sciences and even space often need a hardware component and guidance in product innovation.”
How do Verhaert and imec.istart complement each other?
“The guidance of this type of start-up requires specific expertise. In this respect, the collaboration between imec.istart and Verhaert is an enormous added value. After all, we specialize in hardware and hybrid systems, while imec.istart focuses more on digital and micro-electronics. We provide a flow-through to start-ups from our own early stage acceleration programs to the imec.istart business acceleration program.”
“Complementary to imec.istart’s coaching towards investment and business readiness, we guide the start-ups in their product readiness track. Verhaert also co-invested in the capital increase, which allowed the fund to grow from 12.5 million euros to more than thirty million euros. Finally, we also participate in the board of Istart Fund and its investment decisions.”
From an interview with MediaPlanet for ‘De Kracht van Vlaanderen’.