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Fit 4 Start is entering its 10th edition. We spoke to Luxinnovation’s Head of Start-up Acceleration Stefan Berend about the past, present, and future of Luxembourg‘s premier startup support programme.
by: Torge Schwandt
photo: Marion Dessard
featured: Stefan Berend

Listen to article (Part I)

How has Fit 4 Start developed since its inception?

The programme has developed very well since its establishment in 2015. For example, the number and diversity of applications have steadily increased. Since the first edition, we have received more than 1,000 applications from over 60 different countries.

Without a doubt, Fit 4 Start`s acceleration programme has positioned itself well as the leading programme of its kind in Luxembourg. From supporting only single projects at the beginning, it evolved into a comprehensive 4-month programme that helps startups with non-equity funding, tailor-made coaching, and access to investors respectively at the appropriate stage of their development. More than EUR 7 million has been invested in the startups so far. As a result, it has been a great journey for everyone involved with excellent progress being made, ever since Luxinnovation, with the strong support of the Ministry of Economy, launched it with their teams.

What stands out to me and our Fit 4 Start team is the strong buy-in we see from all stakeholders in the local Startup ecosystem, which is a fundamental factor for the programme’s success. We do not just have outstanding support from the government and incubators like Technoport (a partner from day one), and LCI (Luxembourg-City Incubator, who joined right after its incorporation in summer 2018). In addition, the House of Entrepreneurship has been very much involved during the recent editions.

Not forgetting, the Luxembourg based “Pitching and Graduation Day” we host twice a year which has really become a cornerstone for startuppers and tech enthusiasts. It is a great opportunity that highlights and acknowledges Luxembourg as a growing Startup Nation with 70+ pre-selected Pitches, the “who’s who” of the Startup ecosystem, established corporations and which is, of course, great fun.

“Since the first edition, we have received more than 1,000 applications from over 60 different countries.”

Tell us about some success stories from the previous editions?

There have been plenty of Startups standing out during the previous editions and which have done very well since they graduated from the Fit 4 Start programme.

Just to name a few, I think Salonkee or StarTalers (just recently) are great examples of local Startups that have successfully completed notable funding rounds after their participation in the programme.

The same accounts for Passbolt that has leveraged the network which they built also through Fit 4 Start. Additionally, their team participated in a summer school in San Francisco that gave them access to the Silicon Valley ecosystem. This is another initiative organized earlier this year, which also highlights that Fit 4 Start is just the beginning of a journey and that we plan to build long-lasting relationships and help our alumni with scaling up – obviously an entirely new challenge.

MPG (Molecular Plasma Group) which participated in Fit 4 Start`s pilot version in HealthTech and ume solutions, a RegTech, have also developed very well, with great results and become a reference in their respective sectors.

Bondweaver is a good example of a Startup from abroad that has successfully utilized the chances of establishing themselves within the Luxembourgish ecosystem, the same goes for RoomMate. Another success story is Rafinex, which is a “venture to watch”, coming from abroad, but with Luxembourgish roots, too.

I could definitely mention more great entrepreneurs, who pushed their ideas or concepts to a stage to reach the next step on their journey. I believe that together with the coaches and with the contribution of outstanding entrepreneurs and investors who were jury members since the beginning of Fit 4 Start, business models have been shaken, execution strategies have been “demolished” and re-assessed –with the ultimate and common goal: to make a difference and raise the bar in the vision of each entrepreneur.

Listen to article (Part II)

What do successful Fit 4 Start founders have in common?

There is not one typical founder profile who graduated from the programme. We have had more experienced founders that for example worked in certain industries for a long time before starting their own business, but we have also seen teams that recently just graduated from university, are younger in terms of experience and trying to turn their business concepts into a reality.

Even though the founders might differ in their origins of how to build a business in their respective markets, what unites them however is a clear vision, strong execution and the fact that they are surrounded by outstanding teams. On a personal note, I must admit, it is also great to see how people with a decade long or more track record in their industries listen to advice and are able to adapt in order to succeed. This probably is an ingredient, which separates the good from the great entrepreneurs.

“The better we help the startups build their products solving a real need, the closer we can bring them to their clients and partners, the higher the probability of success for the positioning of the acceleration programme.”

What is there to know about Fit 4 Start #10?

The upcoming 10th edition of the programme will focus on ICT and Space. We are looking forward to applications from companies that work on innovative solutions e.g. in IoT (Internet of Things), Cybersecurity or Fintech as well as SatCom, Navigation, or Space Resources.

The applications are open until 20 January 2020 (see our article Fit 4 Start opens calls for ICT and SpaceTech startups). The next Pitching and Graduation day will then take place on 26 March 2020. There is also a brand-new platform that interested founders should check out to get all the latest info about the programme.

We are again aiming high for this edition and are looking forward to receiving many interesting applications from around the world. Sneak preview, we will definitely have new countries represented in the application pipeline.

What are the long-term goals for Fit 4 Start?

The long-term goal will most probably remain contributing to Luxembourg’s data economy strategy through supporting promising local startups as well as attracting outstanding young companies from around the globe to our dynamic ecosystem and help them contribute to Luxembourg`s economy.

The challenge will remain to provide a setup with the acceleration programme, which solves critical issues of tech entrepreneurs on how to build successful and high-performing organisations. Obviously, in these dynamic environments, the status quo is always being re-assessed and fine-tuned. The better we help the Startups build their products solving a real need, the closer we can bring them to their clients and partners, the higher the probability of success for the ideal positioning of the acceleration programme. There is untapped potential and we plan to exploit this.

We want to continue the programme’s successful evolution especially by helping not only the startups, but also bridging the gap to stakeholders like corporates to become digital winners through positioning Fit 4 Start as a platform that provides access to innovation.

Overall, Fit 4 Start will help the country’s future-readiness by being a gateway to the European market that also creates significant spill over effects for the Greater Region. Sectors such as ICT and Space, but also HealthTech offer great potential in this respect.

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