Antoine Hron is in charge of startup support at Luxinnovation, the agency for the promotion of innovation and research in the Grand Duchy, and coordinates the Fit for Start program. Launched by the Ministry of Economy, Luxinnovation, and the Technoport incubator, this public acceleration program for emerging and innovative startups is beginning its search for the second set up startups with which it will work. Startups are invited to send their applications from July 11 to September 7. The ambition for the second edition of the program includes promoting the program and the Luxembourg ecosystem internationally by relying on a sustained communication campaign and an expanded network of partners, including the LTIO (Luxembourg Trade and Investment Office).
(Featured Image: Antoine Hron is coordinating the Fit for Start program / Image Credit: Olivier Minaire)
Antoine, what is the purpose of the Fit for Start program?
Fit for Start is a four-month acceleration program with weekly coaching sessions and a €50,000 award for the selected startups. The program aims to attract foreign entrepreneurs who want to develop and launch their startup in Luxembourg, but is also open to entrepreneurs form Luxembourg who want to develop their ideas domestically and abroad. Through this program, we want to support companies from the development of an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) through until the signing of their first customers and first round of fundraising. We also focus a lot on the pitch, so that each startup can better present itself to competition judges, suppliers, customers and investors. A couple of the startups we have worked with have already won competitions since we coached them! In any case, we wish to increase and encourage the creation of new startups, promote the Luxembourg startup ecosystem, both at a European and global level, and allow for the creation of new jobs. We have to make sure to present Luxembourg in an attractive manner and that the projects selected for the Fit for Start program make a positive impact on the local community.
The number of applications we received from has reinforced our belief that the program has some resonance at an international level and that Luxembourg is a real option for many entrepreneurs.
What are the expectations of the startups?
They are numerous and can differ from one startup to another. The startups are not all at the same stage of development. Some have just been created, as was the case of three of the last five selected startups, and are still trying to define their business model. Others are already at an advanced stage and expect the coaches to help them refine their presentation and support them for their first commercial actions, etc. All of the startups have quite a lot of work to do to achieve their goals. After the pilot and the first official edition of the program, which took place from March to early July, we realized that we had to develop individual coaching sessions, rather than plenary sessions, in order to meet the specific needs of the startups. However, it is sometimes beneficial to meet all together as well. Two of the startups from the pilot completely revamped their business models!
What else did you learn from the pilot of the program and the first edition? How has what you learned help to shape the program?
For the pilot project, we made a call for applications to the local startups in order to test and develop the program. The pilot allowed us to validate the concept and so we issued a new call for applications through our network, selecting five new startups for the first official edition of Fit for Start. For the first edition, we received more than a hundred applications. Three-quarters of the applications came from neighboring countries, others from further afield such as Turkey, Romania and India. Knowing that we hadn’t even advertised this first edition much, the number of applications we received from has reinforced our belief that the program has some resonance at an international level and that Luxembourg is a real option for many entrepreneurs.
Regarding the coaching, we have, until now, worked with two coaches from Belgium, as well as a third one we occasionally ask to assist with addressing funding issues. For the second edition, we want to integrate two new coaches into our team—one who knows the local market well and one who has expertise dealing with international markets—while ensuring there is a transition leader, a coach who knows the structure of the program and expectations of the stakeholders well. We will thereafter continue to integrate new coaches into the program in order to create a pool of diverse skills from which our startups can draw the particular expertise they need. We plan to also expand the jury for the selection process and rotate the jury members for each new edition.
Many programs offer around 10,000 euro or dollars but we found that with €50,000, the impact is much stronger because it serves not only to structure the startup.
What do you expect for this upcoming second edition?
Obviously we will receive even more applications and we will be able to promote the program more widely. Perhaps we’ll have as rapid growth as the Startup Chile program has had, who knows?! We have all summer to promote the program and get the word out about it beyond Luxembourg’s borders. Fit for Start is open to all early-stage ICT startups in all sectors. For now, we want to see what volume we can achieve. Later we’ll decide whether to focus only on startups from certain sectors in order to achieve a critical mass.
How did you decide to allow a EUR 50,000 grant?
First, we performed a benchmark on existing acceleration programs. We looked at what was done at both the public and private level, at both the European and the global level, and we realized that similar programs offering €50,000 in support were beginning to make a real impact on startups. Many programs offer around 10,000 euro or dollars but we found that with €50,000, the impact is much stronger because it serves not only to structure the startup, but also to pay the first salary. The grant is not used to create the startup itself. We believe the entrepreneurs should be wiling to take a risk and contribute to the development of their projects and that is why our eligibility criteria states that the entrepreneur must provide a private contribution of €10,000, which corresponds to the minimum capital that we want the company to have.
Fit for Start represents the first step of the investment process. The program helps the startups consider and obtain more significant fundraising from the private sector or other resources like the Digital Tech Fund.
Francine Closener also recently announced an additional grant…
Indeed, following the success of the pilot edition and the first edition, the government decided to allocate additional assistance to startups that graduate from the program in order to enable them to take off faster. An additional €100,000 is given to graduates who manage, in parallel, to raise private funds of a minimum of €50,000. €150,000 is huge for a startup in the launch phase! I also want to clarify that if a startup does not graduate, this does not mean that the project is not viable. Upon entry into the program, we define together with members of the jury and the startups, the goals to achieve. Over the four months we meet to assess the progress of projects. If a startup has not achieved all of its objectives in four months, it cannot claim this additional public funding. But it continues to live, grow and enjoy the first boost that we gave them, as well as other accompanying tools from Luxinnovation.
How does the Fit for Start program fit in with other existing aid programs?
Our desire from the beginning is to make each of the selected startups more attractive so that they can raise money and get customers. Our aim for the program is for each startup to walk away with an MVP in line with market needs, in order for it to be able to test the real world and present a product or a specific service to potential investors.
Fit for Start represents the first step of the investment process. The program helps the startups consider and obtain more significant fundraising from the private sector or other resources like the Digital Tech Fund. The latter has also successfully launched earlier this year. Like other public funding, it is vital to our economy because it supports startups and SMEs in their research, development and innovation.
This article was first published in SILICON