Fit 4 Start’s fifth edition is set to begin in October and interested startups have until August 28th to apply. Antoine Hron, Program Manager, coordinates the various teams in charge of selecting and developing promising startups in only a few months.
(Featured Image: Antoine Hron, Head-of Start-up Development & Fit4Start Programme Manager at Luxinnovation / Image Credit © Olivier Minaire)
Can you give us an overview of the first four editions?
Since we first launched Fit 4 Start at the end of 2015 we have received more than 500 applications – an average of 100 to 150 for each call – from more than 20 different countries. This shows a strong interest in the program.
Other interesting figures: The program’s startups have raised more than €1.5 million and new fundraising rounds will be announced soon. Twelve new companies were set up, generating 40 jobs. These startups have the potential to become huge success stories and have a strong local impact.
In the program, early-stage startups receive coaching and support, as well as €50,000 in aid. The Ministry of Economy has even added a grant of €100,000 for companies that want to raise funds at the end of the program.
“Our jury and our experts make full use of these few months, giving their advice and opening up their professional and personal networks.”
What is the current status of the program?
The first four editions allowed us to test different initiatives and to develop our support modules. We are increasingly moving toward a collaborative program, because we have noticed that startups are helping each other much more than they are competing with each other. We have moved from theory to practice through very concrete support. We conduct plenary sessions in the first two weeks of the program so that entrepreneurs can devote the remaining 3.5 months to putting into practice the solutions proposed by our coaches.
We also hope that these startups will achieve the expected success, bringing the program to the international stage. For our fourth cycle, we reached out to foreign companies and slightly more mature startups, for example Israeli startup L7 Defense.
It is obvious that the objectives differ between startups depending on their aspirations in terms of business development. Indian startup Viewport, for example, has already participated in Startup Chile’s accelerator program and is active in the United States, so it no longer needs to develop a business model, define an MVP or acquire its first customers.
The program goes further than it did when it launched two years ago and now differentiates between early-stage and late-stage startups.
How does the program work?
Each edition lasts six months. The call for projects lasts one month, as does the selection process and preparation. Then there is a four-month program for the selected startups made up of coaching and personalized support. Our jury and our experts make full use of these few months, giving their advice and opening up their professional and personal networks.
When opening applications to countries outside the European Union did you face any visa issues?
I think this is a common problem in many countries: how to attract talent from around the world proactively and without red tape. Our challenge is to facilitate and accelerate procedures because entrepreneurs sometimes face cultural differences and administrative constraints. However, entrepreneurs selected for our program do not have much time and must focus on their projects. That is why we have a large majority of European projects coming to us. If we want to become a startup nation this is something we need to work on.
What happens to unsuccessful applications?
Of the 150 applications we receive on average, 20 startups are invited to the pitching day and five are selected to the program. The other 15 are followed by our teams and partners who identify their needs and evaluate how best to help them grow in Luxembourg or beyond. The remaining applications are also analyzed and approximately 50 files are directly or indirectly taken care of by our partners.
In 2018 our goal is to make the pitching day or the graduation day a flagship event by inviting as many interested startups as possible to come and meet the ecosystem’s main players.
“I have to admit that I was surprised by the collaborative aspect and mutual assistance shown among the startups…we were able to create a real Fit 4 Start family”
Where do you want to improve?
We have already discussed with our partners, coaches and startups several areas for improvement.
I am thinking, for example, of increasing the volume of applications received. How can we get 300 or 400 applicants? One idea would be to select 10 startups instead of five. For this we need to increase communication at the international level. Another avenue would be to create verticals channels to accompany startups by industry. At this level it is a matter of budget because we would exceed 10 startups.
Whatever the case, making the program an asset for the “Luxembourg” brand and ensuring its positive impact on the ecosystem remain the main objectives.
And what have you learned from these first cycles?
I have to admit that I was surprised by the collaborative approach and mutual assistance among startups. I really did not expect that, and I think we were able to create a real Fit 4 Start family where the human aspect won out and allowed startups to accelerate their development even faster.