On October 1st, we’ve officially closed our imec.istart Autumn 2023 call. While this marked another occasion for tech startups to apply for our internationally renowned accelerator program, it also provides us with a new opportunity to analyze what’s currently trending in the world of early-stage entrepreneurship.
Our team is busy combing through all applications to discover this call’s gems, and we can’t wait to welcome the next wave of innovators into our imec.istart community soon.
Let’s dive straight in and figure out what these startups are working on.
With 19% of all applications, HealthTech startups remain the dominant force by dedicating themselves to solve critical healthcare-related problems. Call after call, we notice that healthcare continues to be one of the most fertile grounds for innovation, in part because of the vibrant healthcare ecosystem that we’re carefully nurturing to enable our portfolio companies to succeed. We don’t expect this to slow down any time soon, because our acquisition of BlueHealth Innovation Center led to the recent launch of our brand-new HealthTech pre-accelerator program. That’s right, now we can support healthcare entrepreneurs at an even earlier stage!
Business Services, although having shown a sharp decrease during our previous call, was heavily represented again with 13% of all applications. FinTech and HRTech share the 3rd place with 8% each, as we’ve seen an increasing amount of applicants focusing on solutions to enhance data sharing, streamline collaboration and ensure compliance and in both these industries. These sectors are followed by SportsTech (6%), Manufacturing (6%) and Construction technology (6%), the latter being a newcomer in the top 10.
With 10% collectively, MediaTech, MusicTech and Entertainment gained serious momentum last time, to drop to only 6% this time around. Other industries that are represented, though to a lesser extent, are Consumer Products, Automotive, FashionTech, Aerospace, Travel, and Utilities.
* These are the industries applicants have marked as their main industry, but their scope is often wider.
As one could expect with the current technological landscape, AI-driven solutions aren’t slowing down anytime soon either. 43% of applicants are building AI-first products, with types of AI that range from Natural Language Processing (9%), Computer Vision (9%) and Search & Recommendation (13%), all the way to Reasoning & Decision Support (8%) and Data Mining (2%). In contrast to the last few calls, unspecified AI is only represented in 2% of our Autumn 2023 applications, whereas it’s almost always been the biggest category up until now.
Blockchain technology showed a steep drop last time around, now remaining steady with 8% of applications creating solutions with distributed ledgers and crypto as their core building blocks. IoT on the other hand, which was the surprising frontrunner last time with a whopping 22%, is now only represented in 6% of applications, sharing their spot on the podium with Wearable technology.
The number of shallow-tech solutions further increases from 22% to 28%, showing that entrepreneurs are innovating more and more in terms of the business model, approach, or application, rather than the technology itself. Lastly, with only 2% each, technologies such as NanoTech, Cyber Security, Digital Twins and AR/VR/XR are much less represented during this call.
In line with each of our previous calls, the majority of teams that apply for imec.istart consist of 2 (45%) or 3 (28%) founders. The number of teams with 4 founders decreased from 13% to 6%, however, we noticed a serious uptick in the number of companies that are founded with 5 or more founders, as they represent 21% of all applications.
If you can’t apply for imec.istart yet because you’re still looking for your partner-in-crime, we have good news! We’re organizing our next free online co-founder matchmaking event on October 26th, for which you can already register via this link. We’re pretty stoked about a number of teams that have already been accepted into our portfolio as a result of one of our previous co-founder matchmaking events (ask SCIMM or AI-blox, just to name a few). So, if you’re still looking for someone with a specific skillset to bring your idea to life, or you’re an entrepreneurial soul that’s eager to join someone else as a co-founder, don’t hesitate to sign up!
Just like our previous calls, most applicants remain close to home as Belgium represents the primary base for 85% of applicants. If we dig a little deeper, we notice another small uptick from startups in the Brussels region, going from 22% to 24%, whereas startups from the Walloon region dropped from 15% to 8% of total applications. Regardless, it’s clear that our new office in La Grand Poste, Liège, is becoming instrumental to build bridges between all Belgian regions, as we’re noticing much more activity within the broader tech ecosystem south of the Flemish border.
Next to all Belgian applicants, we’ve received applications from 8 other countries. As always, UK, Turkey, India, and Luxembourg are represented, however it’s the first time that none of the applications come from The Netherlands. And that’s good news if you ask us, because that means they’re finding their way to our Dutch program. They’re still accepting applications until November 1st!
Even though we’ve seen HealthTech and Artificial Intelligence dominate our applications for many years, this call undeniably shows that they remain at the forefront. We’re curious to observe how our new HealthTech pre-accelerator program will impact these numbers in our upcoming calls. We’ve now also seen a steep drop in IoT solutions, whereas wearable technology and blockchain-based applications remain steady compared to our previous call.
Not surprisingly, the continued rise in shallow-tech solutions shows that entrepreneurs are leveraging existing technological tools more often, as they’re trying to innovate in different ways. However, the biggest surprise this time comes from the team corner, as it’s the first time we’re seeing so many teams consisting of 5 or more founders.
Now, the final selection lies in the hands of our investment committee, and we’re eagerly waiting to welcome a new cohort of ambitious entrepreneurs into our imec.istart community soon.
Interested in joining our community but didn’t apply for our Autumn 2023 call? Your next opportunity to get in is our Spring 2024 call, which will open on January 1st (deadline on February 1st).
Are you building a tech startup and looking for funding and support, but not sure what to expect from imec.istart? You can easily replay our info session, where we go through all the ins and outs of our program. Want to connect, or have specific questions? Feel free to reach out to our colleague Arantxa Wille by scheduling a free introductory meeting with her.