What do extremely successful scale-ups such as Datacamp, Ugentec, Ontoforce and Posios (now Lightspeed) have in common? They all come from the imec.istart stable. The accelerator for technological start-ups turns promising start-ups into world leaders in the making. This year, Imec.istart became the best University Business Accelerator in Europe. "When we started in 2011, we were a pioneer," says founder Sven De Cleyn. "We are still the odd man out, but today we are part of a mature ecosystem for start-ups and scale-ups in Flanders."
In 2011, Belgium did not yet have an ecosystem for start-ups and scale-ups. Imec wanted to change that, De Cleyn looks back. “We came from the software corner. You don't need that much to start a start-up. With relatively limited resources, you can still have a strong impact. With imec.istart we wanted to help create an ecosystem for starting technology companies. ”
Eight years later, imec.istart succeeded quite well in that mission. Nearly 200 start-ups completed the accelerator process. 85 percent still exist today, and fifty have now grown into a solid scale-up, with a turnover or financing of at least 1 million euros. This year Imec.istart was named the best University Business Accelerator in Europe at the World Incubation Summit in Doha. The accelerator is in fourth place worldwide. Not a small beer, if you know that there were more than 1,500 competitors.
Imec.istart is an atypical accelerator. A maverick in the start-up ecosystem, De Cleyn clarifies. “We mainly look at start-ups that have already passed the pure ideation phase. A rough proof of concept must already be present, and a certain trust in the technological basis. The start-ups that are part of imec.istart are not only tech-driven, they also have in common that they all have international ambitions and have already set up an embryonic team. ”
The fact that imec.istart was created and still operates under the auspices of imec, a reputed research institution that belongs to the absolute world top, gives the start-ups a headstart . "We are the only accelerator in Belgium with a pure focus on technology" De Cleyn emphasizes. “We have more than 4,000 scientists and technologists walking around here at imec. Starting entrepreneurs can rely on a unique network and enormous expertise.”
“The collaboration is a two-way street. Start-ups can count on technological know-how, we are already looking at the kick-off with a panel of experts on how we can strengthen their technology. Conversely, their new and wild ideas also enrich the scientists who work for imec. The accelerator adds a business sense to imec. The start-ups awaken the entrepreneurial spirit in the scientists. Approximately one-sixth of imec.istart's start-ups come from our own homes. "
Every start-up can count on a financing of € 50,000 at imec.istart, in exchange for 6 percent of the shares. An investment can rise to € 150,000 in total, depending on needs and potential. "The initial investment is not enough to run a business, that is not the intention" De Cleyn explains. "It is above all a lever to allow start-ups to attract their first paying customers and to attract other financing: innovation subsidies, a bank loan, venture capital from business angels or VCs, etc.".
Sven De Cleyn says that the latter will work pretty well. “The start-ups from the imec.istart stable together raised more than 200 million euros in follow-up funding, of which the last 100 million in the past 1.5 years. We notice that over the years imec.istart has become a quality mark. VCs also know that we are quite strict in our selection, and that a large proportion of our start-ups are growing to scale-ups. And our leading position in the University Business Accelerator ranking does not miss investors, of course.”
“At imec.istart we put a lot of effort into introducing start-ups and investors to each other. Twice a year we organize an investor day, thirty or so founders can pitch their start-up. We have built up an international network of more than 1,000 investors since 2011. We know what those investors are looking for, we know which type of start-ups make their heart beat faster. That is still no guarantee of funding. But start-ups will get capital more quickly if, thanks to our connections, they can immediately enter the front door of an investor. ”
At the beginning of 2020, imec.istart is looking for a new batch of start-ups . De Cleyn has seen the founders evolve over the past eight years. “When we just started, almost all of the founders had just graduated. Young wolves who were passionate about technology, but did not usually eat cheese from doing business. That image has evolved. The young wolves are still knocking on our door, but we are also seeing more and more experienced people who already have 10 to 15 years of experience on the clock. They want to build solutions for problems that they themselves were confronted with on the business side. ”
“The latest batches are also becoming increasingly international. We counted about a quarter of foreign start-ups in the last call. They enrich our ecosystem, because they have a strong local impact. To be admitted to imec.istart they must also be anchored here. We bring talent and innovative ideas to Flanders. "
“I have also seen the level of start-ups rise. That makes sense. In 2011 there was no question of a start-up community here. Now it is. Many start-ups who come to us have already been able to count on the support of an incubator or another accelerator in their ideation phase. They are much stronger in their shoes. Also, do not underestimate the importance of role models. The ecosystem for start-ups and scale-ups has become mature. "
Are you a start-up looking for world class financial resources and coaching ? Then register for the new call from imec.istart, registration is possible until 1 February 2020. Is your start-up not fully ready yet? They organize another call in May and September.