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. www.hightechxl.com 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.