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imec.istart announces its Launch Program

Imec.istart is known for giving tech founders the best chances to succeed. With a portfolio of over 300 companies to date, we have a solid track record of helping entrepreneurs bring their products to market and grow their startups internationally. And that’s all thanks to our investment fund and flagship accelerator program, which we’ve built and refined since 2011. 
With hundreds of applications each year, we have front row seats to witness how much the bar has been raised for startups to get their initial funding, thereby slowly creating a new gap in the market. Indeed, with today’s variety of entrepreneurship initiatives, we continue to see growth in Belgium’s founder community. However, as more and more people venture out and found startups, we also noticed an increase in the expected level of maturity required for accelerators and investors to write their first cheque. 
We aim to fill this above-mentioned gap by announcing our brand-new Launch Program, designed to help early-stage founders validate their most critical assumptions and solidify the foundation of their (potential) startup. In just 12 weeks, founders are treated to an in-depth exploration of fundamental topics and could – if eligible – seamlessly transition to our core imec.istart accelerator program. 

The Launch Program: bridging the gap to pre-Seed funding 


As we’ve been supporting founders through the demanding journey of entrepreneurship for many years, we’re constantly reminded by how easy it is for founders to fall into the trap of building things for which there might be no market. That’s why we've been working diligently on expanding our ability to help more entrepreneurs thrive, sooner.

Program Manager Elise Descamps explains: 
“Despite the growth we’re seeing in both the number of startups and strength of entrepreneurship initiatives, it remains challenging for founders to get pre-seed funding. In response to this market evolution, we’ve been experimenting with ways to help entrepreneurs earlier, and provide them with the necessary tools to kickstart their entrepreneurial journey. Our brand-new Launch Program is the result of these efforts.” 

The goal of our Launch Program is to help (potential) founders reach the point where they are ready to apply for our, or any other, accelerator program. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to further collaborate with our friends within the ecosystem by strengthening the value chain and help founders across each stage of the startup lifecycle.  

Program details: 12 weeks of hands-on support and expert guidance  

In 12 weeks, participants can expect hands-on insights into a variety of topics fundamental to their early-stage startup journey. From getting the team aligned and thoroughly understanding the problem they’re trying to solve, to the basics regarding product development, business modeling and fundraising.


We’ve batched the in-person workshops into 2-day workshop sprints, spaced 1 month apart, allowing participants time to work on their business and put their learnings into practice. This time is specifically reserved for validating assumptions, talking to potential stakeholders, or executing experiments, but also to schedule follow-up deep-dives with workshop experts or consult the (industry-specific) resources in our curated content library. 
With our Launch Program, we provide selected tech entrepreneurs with imec.istart expert coaching and access to our network, even if they’re still too early for our accelerator program. 

Application and selection criteria for the Launch Program  


The ideal candidate for our Launch Program is developing a tech solution – either hardware, software or both – but needs additional support to convince accelerators or investors to come on board. Unlike our imec.istart Accelerator Program,  you can already apply for our Launch Program even if you don't have a working Proof of Concept or a Minimum Viable Product yet. Additionally, unlike our accelerator program, which requires at least 2 founders, you can apply for our Launch Program even if you don’t have a complementary co-founder yet
We run our Launch Program twice per year – one in Spring and one in Autumn – and the application process is organized via our Innovatrix platform, just like all our other programs. Participants will be selected based on their fit with the program’s eligibility criteria and scope, and all applications will be reviewed by our team, using our internal evaluation method.  

We’ve had 14 (potential) startups go through the last 2 iterations of our 12-week program, with awesome results and feedback so far. Initially, we focused the program on HealthTech, but we’re now excited to open it up to almost any industry. 

"This was the perfect opportunity to get a taste for the support imec.istart can give to tech startups, as we were able to thoroughly explore the dynamics of our market, finetune our value proposition and define a concrete roadmap for the upcoming months." -  Ben Somers, co-founder Corgee

Beyond the desk: common challenges and key learnings from the Launch Program


Almost all participants come into the program with various assumptions about their target market and their approach to solve a particular problem, but most of them consider these assumptions to be true too soon. The most common challenges they face involve deeply understanding how to segment their potential user or customer base, the dynamics of their respective markets and business models, and what these insights mean for their product roadmap. The program is designed to provide participants with the tools they need turn their vision into a validation machine, enabling them to build something people really want. Additionally, getting the founding team aligned remains a crucial part of the startup equation that’s too often overlooked. 
We’ve clearly seen that it pays off to structure the process of validating assumptions. At the start of the program, we always take sufficient time to define a few key milestones across several dimensions, such as customers, market, product and tech, team and funding. What works well is defining these key milestones for what participants want to achieve by the end of the program, and then working backwards to make them more granular and tangible in the shorter term. After that, it’s time to execute by having lots of conversations with potential stakeholders, learning what makes them tick, and translating those learnings into elements like your value proposition, user/customer buy-in, product features, and, of course, new assumptions. It's dangerous to try to build a company solely from behind your desk.  


As Venture Acceleration Manager Maarten Van Gorp puts it:  
“While launching might sound like a one-time thing, it's really a continuous process. Only after you launch something, you begin to truly learn what to build. With every iteration, pivot, or new feature, you're essentially launching again. That’s why we’ve intentionally named it the Launch Program, because we're here to help you build that foundational layer so you can start—and keep—launching. As launching precedes accelerating, participants are encouraged to already launch something during the program, which steepens their learning curve.”  

Expanding horizons: strengthening local and global support for entrepreneurs


Imec.istart is actively expanding internationally, having already established a presence in the Netherlands and Italy, with concrete plans for further expansion into other countries. Simultaneously, we are making strong efforts to enhance our local presence.   
In addition to our offices in Ghent, Antwerp and Liège, we’ve just signed a partnership agreement with several local players in the Limburg region. Our goal is to help build strong and thriving local tech hubs based on the strengths of these regions. With colleagues in each of these areas, we work together with other local initiatives to better nurture entrepreneurship within those ecosystems and connect them to the right stakeholders. Our Launch Program is another complementary way to support founders who are earlier in their journey.  

Stay informed and get the latest news on imec.istart’s Launch Program  


If you’d like to stay informed about our Launch Program, don’t hesitate to follow our imec.istart social channels and register for our newsletter via our website. You can find more details about our upcoming edition on our Launch Program webpage and if you’re already considering an application, or would like to discuss the potential fit, feel free to schedule a call with one of our Startup Scouts.