Sunday, 29 September 2013

Probing the Team Dynamics

We're coming in the last few days of the selection process for this season of Startupbootcamp HightechXL. But we can already see that access to brilliant mentors are one of the main reasons for a high-tech startup team to choose a particular accelerator program. Only a few focus as we do on hardware high-tech, but as the Internet of Things morphs quietly into the Internet of Everything (at least CISCO would like us to believe that), it looks like this a just the right moment to add the hardware side. And just as the teams pick and choose their accelerator, so we pick and choose team. As Richard Branson wrote recently, 

There is nothing more important for a business than hiring the right team. If you get the perfect mix of people working for your company, you have a far greater chance of success. However, the best person for the job doesn’t always walk right through your door.
The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality. If you can find people who are fun, friendly, caring and love helping others, you are on to a winner. That doesn’t mean you can’t take risks when building your team. Don’t be afraid of hiring mavericks. Somebody who thinks a little differently can help to see problems as opportunities and inspire creative energy within a group. Some of the best people we’ve ever hired didn’t seem to fit in at first, but proved to be indispensable over time.

Guus Frericks is the manager of Startupbootcamp HightechXL. He believes we can go further that just that gut feeling.

Guus Frericks, Startupbootcamp HightechXL
"As entrepreneurs, we know that team dynamics are the key differentiator for successful start-ups. So during our Final Selection days on October 14 and 15th we've partnered with InContext to do some rather sophisticated personality assessment of the finalist teams. So rather than just relying on the intuitive approach that Branson refers to, we're also using technology to explore strengths and weaknesses. That helps our selection teams ask some explorative questions. And all the teams, whether they get in or not, will get access to their respective team reports. These are a great way of understanding the team dynamics and what motivates (and really annoys) others. Some of the missing talent you can hire in when needed. But there are also things that founders should never delegate to others until they have validated their business model canvas"

We have also been talking to other mentors in other programs, making this compilation of views on why mentors matter. Enjoy. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Why Mentors Matter & How To Select the Best

Working through the Business Model Canvas
We just completed the first of two Mentor Master Classes for Startupbootcamp HightechXL.

At first, it might seem strange that an accelerator would organise a master class for their mentors. Surely, they already know everything there is to know about entrepreneurship? Indeed several have started up companies on the Hightech Campus which were later sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet we are taking a different approach with our accelerator. We're cherry-picking from the Lean Start Up methodology and adapting it to fit the world of high-tech startups. Since hardware is involved the money needed is more substantial and you can't change a minimum viable product by tweaking a few lines of code. But the rewards are also bigger if you get it right.

Last week, Startupbootcamp HightechXL organised its inaugural Master Class for mentors. It was designed to explain the Business Model Canvas approach we're taking and what we've adapted. It was also a chance for two startups to explain their challenges and how mentors really make a difference. Michail Boloudakis Co-Founder and CEO of Kinemsone of the 9 teams selected for the 2013 Startupbootcamp program in Amsterdam. He came down to Eindhoven to explain the challenges of building a company that helps builds games for children with a learning disability. In my personal opinion, Kinems was one of the best teams to come out of the Amsterdam program.

Michail Boloudakis explaining the lessons learned by Kinems

Michail was clear that they were looking for mentors with very specific qualities.

"They must be an entrepreneur. We tended to avoid consultants because they often explain theory rather than practice. Entrepreneurs understand the pressures when things go wrong, as well as how to validate hunches with real customers. They speak from recent, practical knowledge and always keep trying. We also looked for mentors willing to open up their network, even though they know the startup is still at the early stages of development and may pivot. Having said that, the startup also needs to show initiative (i.e. following up suggestions or saying why the contact is not relevant). Good communication is essential.

"In the beginning you get a whole avalanche of advice, both on selection days but also in the first weeks of the program. We listened to all the advice. But we also had done a lot of homework.. We arrived at Startupbootcamp Amsterdam with something like 11 Business model canvasses already worked out. We knew where our weaknesses lay. I cannot stress enough that preparation is essential because there is no time during the program."

"I have a very specific recommendation for the teams joining Startupbootcamp HightechXL to do during their first few weeks of the program.  Be very clear as soon as possible about what kind of expertise you’re looking for. For instance, I knew we needed sales advice (cold calling, etc). Rather than wait for something to pop up  in the program, I used our mentor network and was talking earlier than others to someone who runs a sales accelerator. Our team got a lot of useful advice as a result of being pro-active."

"That preparation in the beginning was worth it because we clearly made the right choice of mentors. That's because even though we're 6 months further in our development, the lead mentors we chose are still on board. Because their skills are still relevant."

"The Amsterdam program is now over. Our technical support has moved back to Greece. But our headquarters and our sales team is based in the Netherlands. This part of Europe is an important market for us and it's a good base from which to plan our global expansion. We've found it an excellent environment for entrepreneurs. The Dutch are very focussed on the bottom line and deadlines. And they say what they mean. That takes some getting used to, but it means you identify problems so much faster. There is also none of the hierarchy that you find in other countries.  The mentors lend their credibility to the program. For instance, when we were talking to a hospital in Ohio, they immediately asked for references. We were able to report that we were doing trials with a Dutch therapy centre, through our mentor circle at Startupbootcamp.  That made subsequent acquisition so much easier. Lead customers often don't want to be the first customer.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Adapting the Lean Methodology to fit other cultures.

Mapping out a strategy at the Hightech Campus Eindhoven

There is a very thoughtful post over on the Lean Startup Blog which caught my eye. That's because I'm working with a team who are adapting the great practical learnings from Silicon Valley and applying them to building successful high-tech companies in Silicon Polder. 

I see that a discussion about the different business cultures is taking place on September 24th, although it is 3 am here in the Netherlands. Startup experts Kevin DewaltTakashi Tsutsumi and Justin Wilcox will meet for a webcast to compare notes. Not sure if I will be the sharpest at that time of the morning. So here are some thoughts up front. Let's start with that blogpost that inspired me: 

In her post today, Lisa Regan, a writer for The Lean Startup Conference notes: 

Entrepreneurs beyond Silicon Valley, including those working abroad, often have to retool Lean Startup methods to apply them in places with very different business cultures.  Kevin Dewalt—a speaker at this year's Lean Startup Conference—is an entrepreneur, investor and adviser who has served as an investor for a strategic U.S. government fund and as Entrepreneur-In-Residence for the National Science Foundation. Two years ago, he moved to Beijing, where he founded Lean Startup Meetup Beijing, as well as his current venture,, a platform for leveraging one-to-one relationships to build reputation and word of mouth. 

“Two years ago I moved to Beijing...... If you ask people in Asia about Lean Startup methods, they’ll often say, ‘I’m not sure that would work here,’ and in a sense they’re right–many of the familiar methods won’t work if applied unmodified. That’s why I recommend that people focus on ideas rather than tactics. Lean Startup ideas will work even in places as different from Silicon Valley as Asia–the specific tactics will need modifying, though. 

“Think, for example, about the way we talk about sales and customer development and the idea of ‘getting out of the building.’ In Silicon Valley, you can go to people and ask them what their problems are, and what solutions they would value, and they’ll be happy to answer you. People in Silicon Valley are accustomed to openly discussing change, and to talking about what’s wrong or needs fixing —it’s culturally accepted there and you get a lot of practice at it. In most of the world, that’s just not the case. If you walk into a manager’s office almost anywhere in Asia and say, ‘I want to talk to you about your problems,’ he’ll tell you that everything’s fine, that he has no problems. He’ll probably suspect that his boss sent you. Right away, by talking in terms of problems and change, you’ve lost that person; they’ll just shut down. 

“This is not to say that you can’t get out of the building in Asia, too. But you'll need to do the legwork to get introduced, and to become really known to people before you ask them for help or information". 

“Another resistance or challenge faced by people starting businesses in Asia comes from within the startup itself, around getting support from co-founders and investors. There’s often a practice in Asia of locking onto the first idea as ‘the idea.’ Impatient investors and team members give little support to a founder trying to do Customer Development to verify or modify that idea. They often look on this as a waste of time. And then, when customers are not buying the product, the blame will tend to focus inward — on the founder for perceived shortcomings in the product, rather than examining the question of whether the product itself is actually solving a problem. 

Many of the challenges Kevin describe resonate with Takashi Tsutsumi. Takashi has been a venture capitalist for fourteen years, investing in technology startups both in Japan and in the United States. Enthusiastic about the scientific approach for a startup, he personally translated both The Four Steps to The Epiphany and The Startup Owner's Manual into Japanese. On weekends, he evangelizes Customer Development and runs a Lean LaunchPad class nationwide in Japan. Takashi spoke to us specifically about what it’s like to try to bring Lean Startup methodologies to a business culture as conservative as Japan’s. He described two challenges, and two pieces of good news. [Ed note: Takashi emphasized to us that his ideas here are his own and not affiliated with any companies that he works for or is involved with.]

“Japan is known for its conservatism and the norm of lifetime employment, both of which result in a lack of entrepreneurship. The following are a few examples.

“Challenge #1:  Perfectionism and detail-oriented culture

“Japanese are known for their perfectionism and the Japanese culture is highly detail-oriented. This culture particularly contradicts with minimum viable products. Entrepreneurs worry that they will lose their trust and reputation with customers if their products compromise features, UI/UX, quality, etc. In addition, although entrepreneurs come up with good MVPs, they gradually add more features as customers say that A, B, and Z are missing, resulting in a ‘maximum’ viable product instead. Therefore, one of the keys for success to practicing Lean Startup methodology in Japan is to encourage entrepreneurs to be patient in minimizing their products. I sometimes refer the nice rule of thumb from Eric Ries, ‘Take what you think is right now and cut it in half and do that two more times and ship it back.’

“Challenge #2:  Pivot is failure?

“Pivoting is a key Lean Startup concept, but in Japan, pivot mostly means failure. The Japanese perfectionism affects this thinking in that people consider it right to complete a plan once it’s developed. First, this is true for entrepreneurs. They stick to the initial idea (i.e., the hypothesis) even if facts tell them it’s wrong. They just hate to admit being wrong, or they believe themselves too much to change their mind. Second, and more important, stakeholders, such as investors and management, think this, too. Even when entrepreneurs get used to the principle of Lean Startup, in which a pivot is not necessarily a failure but is progress, their stakeholders don’t share the sensibility.

“Good news #1: Perfectionism and detail-oriented culture

“Perfectionism and detail orientation inhibit adapting Lean Startup methodology in Japan, but they turn out to be strengths once people buy in. Once they buy in, entrepreneurs in Japan follow and execute Lean Startup exhaustively. 

“Good news #2: Customer Discovery nurtures entrepreneurship

“Customer Discovery is never easy in Japan. Ordinary people do not talk to strangers, knowing they hate unsolicited inquiry. However, the more customers an entrepreneur talks to, the more they learn. What surprises me, however, is that talking to customers also turns non-entrepreneurs to entrepreneurs because they feel a sense of fun and confidence in their idea. 

I hope these thoughts encourage you to explore the full post.

In my work with Startupbootcamp HightechXL, a hardware accelerator right in the heart of the High-Tech campus in Eindhoven. With Philips, ASML, NXP next door, and with 60 nationalities on site, it's one of the most inspiring ecosystems I have ever worked in. And it's expanding rapidly so 10,000 people will be on site within a couple of years, 2000 more than now.

Kevin and Takashi are spot on when they say you should adapt the ideas to fit the local culture. We've taken the lessons learned from Eric Ries and Steve Blank and adapted a few things. European VC's usually have a financial background rather than experience in running a start-up themselves. Explaining that a Business Model Canvas needs to come way before any thoughts of a plan are alien to many, especially those who worked in research units that then spun out into their own companies. Companies invented for you, making huge guesses behind high walled fences. 

Plenty of friendly faces at the recent Expat meet and greet in Eindhoven
We're seeing in the South of the Netherlands much less of the arrogance that you see in big cities. May be it is because they have to try harder to find and keep the international talent. But it is also because Philips and others were some of the first to adopt an open innovation approach based on trust and collaboration. 

Getting start-ups to present their idea in a clear, logical, interesting format is much harder in Europe than in the US. Sometimes it is the language barrier - you write a news story in French or Dutch in a different way to English. It is more like a zoom in rather than a zoom out. Which is why English VC's shout at many European startups to get to the point. 

The other challenge is the mainstream media. Science reporting has been seriously neglected by many European public service broadcasters. It is either event journalism with no substance, or foreign material (often excellent) reworked into a local language. That means that local ideas and developments never get the credit they deserve. The work that the Dutch have done with wifi, bluetooth, and chip design are known only to few. That may be because companies like ASML make the machines that make the chips, but there is never an ASML inside label on the outside. So startups in this part of the Europe may have world-class technology. But they have to work 3 times as hard to get the attention of the public as well as investors. Fortunately the better accelerators realise this challenge and help the start-ups build a media strategy as well as finding a context for the new product or service.

Can I also say thank you to the Lean Startup Conference and the eco-system around it for all the inspiration and guidance you have given through books (we bought the Kindle versions), podcasts and blogs. We understand that content is king and putting the ideas to work in a new context is probably King Kong. 

We're blogging about our adventures on these pages and we're always willing to share our experiences with those in this vibrant community.


Steady Progress for Solar Team Eindhoven

The startup team from Solar Team Eindhoven are sending regular updates on their progress back to their home base in Eindhoven. They were the team that featured at the launch of Startupbootcamp HightechXL in June.

Their reports are in Dutch, but the gist is obvious. Their solar car designed to transport 4 people has been declared road-worthy by the Australian authorities. In preparation for the trip they have been travelling with the car in the opposite direction (i.e. from Adelaide to Darwin) so as to familiarize themselves with the route. They have also met other colleagues from the Netherlands who are also participating in the race (University of Twente) but this team has entered into a different category.

The ABC has also been covering the trials. Their videos are not embeddable on other sites, so here in the link

Selecting the Finalists. What is happening now!

We're getting questions from startup teams about finance as well as the selection procedure. Time to put those points to Guus Frericks, CEO of Startupbootcamp HightechXL in Eindhoven.

How will you know if you’ve found the right team?

We are looking for breakthrough innovations. That means they have some kind of game-changing element, which has the potential to disrupt the whole sector in which they are playing. If that disruption is happening in a growing “end market”, then we know from previous experience, that this is exactly the kind of successful teams we’re looking for. We have a wide range of expertise, especially in entrepreneurship and finance in our core selection team. But, we’re not doing it all alone. We’re selecting the final 100 with the help of brilliant mentors who have signed up for our program.

And when it comes to the final 20, we’re doing something that is unique. We’re partnering with, a renowned firm of human resource consultants. They will assess each member of the team, looking at various aspects of their personality. That will help us judge how the founders will work together under the intense pressure that our program demands. This will be very useful for each finalist team, whether or not they are in the top 10. The report shows exactly the strengths and weaknesses present in each team. And when you know that, you can take action. It may seem strange to be bringing psychologists onto the High Tech Campus. But we know it works because we’ve done the same test on our own Startupbootcamp HightechXL team.  

In The Netherlands, when it comes to tech startups, the media hype is mainly about web and mobile, even though there are some really remarkable companies in more high-tech sectors. How is Startupbootcamp HightechXL different?

I believe everything is in place for a successful program. We are funded for three years, so this search for teams is ongoing. We’ve announced 8 areas of high-tech that are proving to be the fastest growth areas in the coming 5 years. As a start-up ourselves, we will adapt and develop along with the teams we bring on board.

We’ve made a decision to set the bar high from Day One. Teams need to show us a prototype of their idea that they believe is ripe for accelerated development. They also need to show that have a close-knit, complementary team to bring their prototype to launching customers. Our need for a hardware prototype makes us different from the rest of our colleague accelerators.

We’re also standing on the shoulders of giants. We’ve followed how others have built successful programs. We have similar experiences to Eric Ries, the developer of the Lean Start-Up methodology, together with Steve Blank. We believe that successful accelerators need to be run by entrepreneurs with the academic, business and government world’s feeding relevant expertise and support.

But we also realize that high-tech accelerators have different dynamics. Whereas teams can often bootstrap a sufficient runway to create a piece of software, building a sensor or a chip takes much more money upfront. We’re fortunate that in this area we have enthusiastic investors.

We see our job at Startupbootcamp HightechXL is to ensure that our winning teams get access to serious capital. We’ve prepared separate videos to explain access to money to startups. 

We know that teams in our sector need access to between 0.5 and 2.5 million Euro. We have all the experience in our Startupbootcamp HightechXL team to make that happen.

What is the state of the European high-tech ecosystem right now and what is its place of Eindhoven on the world "map" of high technology?

For the general public, Silicon Valley is the birthplace of social media and search engines.Most of the companies in this part of the Netherlands are well-known to handset manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung or Motorola. The speed of their connected devices is determined by the high-precision equipment developed by ASML in the Netherlands. In short, they enable the manufacturing of the chips found in 90% of the world’s smartphones. But the general public doesn’t know about this side of the story. These are not consumer brands. Intel often stickers on the side of PC’s saying Intel Inside. I believe every connected device could carry the slogan ‘enabled by ASML’.

But I believe that will change. This region in the South of the Netherlands is becoming known for breakthrough innovation driving the “Internet of Things”. Brain sensors, robotics, Lifetech, 3D printing, Cleantech, nanotechnology; all these kinds of technologies are going to impact on people’s daily lives. These ideas, products and services are all coming about as a result of disruptive thinking and doing; exactly the sort of ecosystem we’re building with a program like Startupbootcamp HightechXL.

What motivates companies to stay after the program?

The Netherlands is an excellent area to test market an idea. Recently, Elon Musk announced that the new generation of Tesla cars will be built in the city next to ours. So others from abroad are beginning to realize the potential of this region. And Holland has reciprocal tax agreements with a wide range of countries making it much easier to start an international company here than in many other parts of the EU, but also the US or Hong Kong. We know that tech start-ups are not focused on these issues – until they try to scale up rapidly.
In Europe, especially in the Netherlands, we tend to be more risk averse than in Silicon Valley. I believe that’s because many of the venture capitalists and angel investors come from a financial background. In California, many of the new VC’s have run tech companies themselves. But that balance is beginning to change here. I see more of our mentors and investors having very detailed knowledge and understanding of what it takes to build a new high-tech spin-out.

On Demo Day we expect around 300 investors to see what the 10 teams have produced after 3 months of being in a pressure cooker. We estimate that audience will represent €10 billion in capital and there is a hunger for good ideas and products that makes me confident. We’ve been encouraged that investors have come to us to brief us on what they’re looking for, not the other way round.

We’re doing everything to ensure that the ecosystem is right to encourage teams to stay in the Netherlands. There have been other success stories on the High-Tech Campus, like Gen-key or Civolution who have expanded to global markets, but retained their engineering base in Eindhoven. That’s proof that open innovation works.

We’re aware that money is an important factor in the equation. That’s why we believe it is our job as Startupbootcamp HightechXL to ensure there are paths to funding of between €0.5 - 2 million for each team by the time they emerge from the program in February 2014. Other cities like New York and Boston have shown us that this is important. I overheard a colleague describe our role as the “HighTech Headhunters of the 21st century”. I rather like that thought!

Monday, 16 September 2013

It’s great when a plan comes together – The Story of Startupbootcamp HightechXL.

In conversation with Guus Frericks CEO and Managing Director of Startupbootcamp HighTechXL, Eindhoven. This article first appeared in Greek on the website of EMEA.GR.

There are over 200 accelerators out there, so why does the world need another one?

Because in our sector, high-tech, young companies building the hardware of tomorrow need a different approach to building their business. Having run innovation units in the corporate world for Philips and NXP, I know that engineers tend to be perfectionists. They work long hours tinkering with their prototype, not showing it to anyone. Yet, when they finally show it to a lead customer, they discover they don’t like it. Building a scalable business, especially an international business, doesn’t enter their head.

Often they want features that the founder realizes means they need to back to the drawing board for a costly redesign. In the apps world, that could mean changing a few lines of code. In high-tech that could mean half a million Euro to rethink the design of a chip or sensor. By which time a competitor will capture the market. Young companies the Netherlands don’t have that kind of money to waste.

My business partner Eric van den Eijnden (CEO of Dutch Expansion Capital) and I have been helping some of the most innovative tech startups in Europe for several years. One of them, Tidalys, is disrupting the tidal energy market with a fresh approach to turbine design and implementation. They’re located in Caen, in Normandy, home to the fastest tidal currents in the world.

Ideas On the Long Drive Home

The drive back to the Netherlands takes around 6 hours. That gave us both plenty of time to think and discuss. As entrepreneurs we know that we have to scale this concept to cope with the logarithmic growth in innovation.  Instead of building business and marketing strategies for one company at a time, we needed to find a way to do ten at a time.

Having built the framework for the idea, we immediately approach partners to test it. We were surprised and delighted that our accountants, Ernst & Young, not only liked the idea, but quickly came on board as a leading partner. Patrick Gabriëls, who leads an innovation team for EY in Eindhoven bring knowledge in taxation, IP and legal into the mix.

Our company, Dutch Expansion Capital, has proven international experience in building market entry strategies for young high-tech companies. We toyed with the idea of building our own “startup factory”. That was until we realized that global names like Techstars and Startupbootcamp have the experience of running the kind of program we had in mind. We looked around, mentored in few programmes, watched Demo Days in Amsterdam, Berlin and Dublin and then formed a partnership with Startupbootcamp. We’re the 7th city for Startupbootcamp, following on from successful programs running in Amsterdam, Berlin, Dublin, Copenhagen, Haifa, and London.

The program is backed by over 150 international mentors. We've been having regular meetings on the Hightech Campus

Don’t you need to be in a capital city to attract the big investors and best teams?

It is true. Location is extremely important. It’s not about buildings. It’s all about tapping into a vibrant ecosystem of investors, customers, entrepreneurs and researchers. Whilst Amsterdam is the centre of Dutch app-development, Eindhoven is the right in the heart of high-tech. And the best brains in the sector have concentrated their collaborative research skills on what is now known as the High-Tech Campus.
It’s the site of the former Philips research centre NatLab.

But whereas the inventors and engineers used to “invent for you” behind closely guarded fences, Philips pivoted completely in 2003. They were one of the first to champion the open innovation approach, sharing information and facilities with other tech companies. Large corporates innovate faster when they collaborate with young disruptive teams. Although Philips spin-offs like NXP and ASML were already on site, the sale of the whole campus to a consortium of private investors in 2012 means Philips is now a tenant, alongside more than 120 other companies working on the tomorrow’s technologies.

The Hightech Campus Eindhoven is our fourth partner, providing us with offices right in the heart of what’s happening. Our 10 winning teams will have facilities on “the Strip”, which is where all the events & activities are focused. It really is a dream location. And you don’t just have to take our word for it. Back in July, Forbes magazine named Eindhoven as the most inventive city on the planet, well out in front of the rest. And we’re actually located in the smartest square kilometer of that city, the high-tech campus, where on average, a new patent is filed every 20 minutes.

Startupbootcamp HightechXL Barcelona Pitch Day from StartupbootcampTV on Vimeo.

In a few days you will organize a pitch day for high-tech startups in Eindhoven as well as Helsinki & Barcelona. Why have you gone on the road?

We expect that 70% of the teams we attract will come from outside the Netherlands. The Hightechcampus Eindhoven brands itself as the world’s smartest square kilometer. So we have set our target to build the world’s best high-tech accelerator. To do that we need to find the brightest and best teams, irrespective of where they come from. And as the open pitch days ramp up, I know this has been the right approach. I’ve personally been impressed by teams we’ve talked to in South-Eastern Europe recently.

My colleague in DEC, Nick Kalliagkopoulos, knows the Greek High-Tech scene. We have had a good reaction to our initial call for team pitches. So we went to Athens on 12th September to meet potential candidates. These are the kind of networks that you have to build face to face. You can’t just do this on Skype.

One last question: If a high-tech start up has just heard about the program, what do they need to do now?

Online applications closed on Sunday September 8th. has all the details on the program. But there a couple of more opportunities for teams providing they sign up immediately. These pages have all the details:

Helsinki September 25th

Barcelona October 2nd 

Please note that we require pitches to be in English because our program in Eindhoven is also 100% in English. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Hardware Pitching in the Heart of Barcelona

Heading for Barcelona on October 2nd where Startupbootcamp HightechXL is organising a special pitch day for high-tech startups. If you have a hardware solution, then now is the time to sign-up. Only a few places left. All the details are here

 Startupbootcamp HightechXL Barcelona Pitch Day from StartupbootcampTV on Vimeo.

Also a great opportunity to find out about our very different approach to accelerating high-tech startups.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Global Challenge to High Tech Startups...Last Call to Action

Startupbootcamp HighTechXL Pitch Day EuroZone Eindhoven September 20th from StartupbootcampTV on Vimeo.

In the studio to get the word out about our pitch days in Eindhoven on September 20th. Thanks to all who helped us out so far. One final push to get the word out as we approach the home straight.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Elon Musk and the Future of Design

So is Elon Musk, the American entrepreneur, industrialist and inventor a sort of real-life version of fictitious hero Tony Stark, Marvel Comic's Iron Man? I don't think he really cares. He's got his hands full with ventures like SpaceX (space launcher) and Tesla (Electric cars) is hardly out of the headlines at the moment. The difference is that, in contrast to some others trying to develop alternatives to petrol engines, Elon has engineering at heart. Other companies are driven purely by design. That might work for an app. It doesn't seem to be working when it comes to designing an electric car - which is basically a giant battery on wheels.

Musk is worth following because he shares at least some of what he's up to. Look at his recent release on the future of design. It's like Microsoft's Kinect, but then in 3D. Why would hand gestures be useful? Because you have direct control over the navigation rather than trying to fiddle with a joystick.

SpaceX is exploring methods for engineers to accelerate their workflow by designing more directly in 3D. We are integrating breakthroughs in sensor and visualization technologies to view and modify designs more naturally and efficiently than we could using purely 2D tools. We are just beginning, but eventually hope to build the fastest route between the idea of a rocket and the reality of the factory floor. Special thanks to Leap Motion, Siemens and Oculus VR, as well as NVIDIA, Projection Design, Provision, and to everyone enabling and challenging the world to interact with technology in exciting new ways.

They Threw Away the Best Bits

The Dutch current affairs TV programme, Een Vandaag, conducted an interview between Elon Musk and (what they claim) is his Dutch counterpart Michiel Mol (who currently lives in New York). The first bit of the interview was the PR stuff to please the Dutch authorities. Of course that went out on air. But I had cause to explore the public broadcaster's website for a client, and discovered a longer un-cut version of the interview with Elon Musk. Skip the first bit that was used and explore the latter half of the interview. The interviewer gets into a discussion about the technology, especially in current capabilities of batteries. They are not there yet, but much further than I thought.

Elon says the Model S has a useful range of around 400 km at the moment. The new car can charge at 120 kW, 60 times the power consumed by the average household. So the charger and battery need to perform a dance which needs to be monitored. Charge too fast and the battery will overheat (and could catch fire I suppose). Charge too slow and the customers start looking for alternatives. Public expectation is that the battery can be charged just a little slower than filling the tank with conventional gas. Science hasn't yet caught up, but you can be sure they are working on it.

By the end of this year, there will be supercharging stations in metropolitan cities in the US. It should be possible to drive coast-to-coast in the US and remain in range of an electric charging station. As far as Tesla is concerned, the first charging stations in Europe will be installed in Norway. These guys, who made their fortune with oil, have now bought more electric vehicles than anyone.

By the end of 2014, you will be able to be able to travel across Europe and charge the car through the network. And charging is always going to be free. The charging stations are powered by solar cells. Elon also explains why he got involved in the SpaceX project and his fascinating with the planet Mars. He points out that for the first few years they got no help from the government, relying on something like the Lean Startup Method in order to get across Geoffrey Moore's Chasm that faces most hardware entrepreneurs.


Google has been setting up Hangouts between Richard Branson, Elon Musk and the public. Pity that Google doesn't do anything like the preparation required to bring tempo to such a fascinating conversation. Note how emotional Elon becomes around 39'10"into the interview when he went through a very difficult year and had to decide where to put what was left of his money. Clearly he is passionate about what he does. That's the mark of a true world entrepreneur. We shall continue to watch and learn. Hope that Elon comes to this part of the world more often.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

My lips are sealed about HightechXL Pitch Days

As a journalist, it's kinda frustrating not being able to blog or tweet about the great high-tech pitches I saw today at the second open pitch day for Startupbootcamp HightechXL.

That's because it would be unfair to dozens of teams who spent 30 minutes interacting with several mentors from the lead partners EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and Dutch Expansion Capital. You need "Chatham House" rules in order for both sides to be open with each other. It's all about trust, especially when the intellectual property could eventually be worth a lot of money. But I can say that the teams from several countries gave us all the backing we needed.

One team even went as far to say that access to Europe's Silicon Valley in the South of the Netherlands was even more important that his current sales activities in Palo Alto. "People forget that the Netherlands has trade agreements with hundreds of countries, making it so much easier to expand to other markets."

Most of the teams have ambition to expand their ideas to wider markets. For those on line who still want to be considered for the October 14th finals in Eindhoven, there are only 4 days left. September 8th is the deadline because we want to be fair to others. If you know teams that haven't yet heard about Europe's leading hardware accelerator, break the news to them today!

Here's a sneak peek as to who dropped by at the office for the Startupbootcamp HighTechXL side of the selection call.  I was there too, but someone had to be behind the camera.

Know a great team that should be in Eindhoven for the finals? Then stop reading this and persuade them to head off to They'll thank you for it, believe me.

Patrick Gabriels, Eric van den Eijnden, Bart Lugard (seated), Eric Broekhuizen, Guus Frericks take a serious look at a great pitch. Bart and his team have screened 5000 potential companies.

Victoria Martinez and Nick Kalliagkopoulos also cast a sharp eye on the conversations coming in.