The Fit 4 Start concept is simple: participants get four months of coaching, access to a collaborative workspace, a grant of up to €150,000 and the opportunity to connect to the entire Luxembourg start-up eco- system. The acceleration programme, which started in 2015, initially focused exclusively on ICT start-ups. The success of the first editions encouraged the Luxembourg government to open it up in 2018 to the field of health technologies, and in 2019 to the space sector. More than one hundred start-ups are preselected every year to pitch to a selected jury in Luxembourg.
The money is of course helpful, but what was really important was to develop our business knowledge.
Entrepreneurs from all over the world apply to Fit 4 Start, with the possibility of securing an attractive equity grant being one of the main attractions. However, after starting the programme, they quickly realise that the high-level coaching is what really makes a difference. “The money is of course helpful, but what was really important was to develop our business knowledge,” says Caner Dolas, co-founder of Gamma AR who participated in the spring 2019 edition. This originally German start-up is developing an augmented reality tool for construction companies that allows visualisation of all the elements of a building using 3D models. “In our team we are all engineers, and Fit 4 Start definitely helped us improve our business skills.”
The ability to question yourself
Coaching has been the central element of the programme from the very beginning. Luxinnovation pays particular attention to the choice of coaches and jury members, who also function as mentors. The level and complementarity of their expertise is essential. “The strength of our programme is that it combines group sessions with coaching that is personalised and adapted to each start-up,” explains Luxinnovation’s Fit 4 Start ICT coordinator Laurence Hulin.
Fit 4 Start significantly helps start-ups to position themselves on the market and get a clear idea about what their clients really want.
The objective of the coaching is to help the entrepreneurs identify their strategic development needs and growth potential. During several working sessions, the start-ups are invited to reflect on all elements necessary to put together a business plan, to assess the viability of their company and to consider the time it will take them to find the necessary partners and funding. “I have been working with start-ups for almost 20 years, and I have noticed that very few entrepreneurs really know their clients,” says Michel Blumenthal, one of the coaches. “Fit 4 Start significantly helps start-ups to position themselves on the market and get a clear idea about what their clients really want,” adds Jean-Yves Hergott, an investor and entrepreneur who was part of the jury from the 8th programme edition.
The Fit 4 Start coaching is very intensive, and the participants’ openness to listen to the advice provided by the coaches and jury members, as well as their ability to question themselves, is crucial. “We were permanently being challenged,” remembers Kevin Muller, CEO of corporate password management specialist Passbolt who participated in the 4th edition of Fit 4 Start. “As an entrepreneur, you have a lot of preconceived ideas. It was very useful to discuss with senior investors and entrepreneurs who questioned even minor details of our strategy.”
Space on the radar
For the first time since the launch of Fit 4 Start, the 2019 autumn edition offers tailor-made support to five start-ups active in the space sector. Capitalising on its status as a European pioneer in the development of commercial activities in space, Luxembourg decided to open the acceleration programme in this sector. A particular focus is placed on the downstream sector of value-added applications and services derived from space-based data, sometimes combined with data from other airborne, in-situ or social network-based sources. Selected Fit 4 Start participants also benefit from a premium access to the Luxembourg Space Agency data centre, which contains data from the Sentinel 1 and Sentinel 2 Earth observation satellites of the European Copernicus system. In addition, they can request access to the data lake (storage repository that holds a vast amount of raw data) of the spacetech company Spire Luxembourg. A real advantage for start-ups looking for data to develop their services.
Luxembourg’s multicultural and multilingual culture is a crucial aspect that attracts start-ups wishing to expand on the European market.
In just a few years, Fit 4 Start has grown significantly and become renowned well beyond Luxembourg’s borders. Nearly 300 start-ups from more than 50 different countries competed to be part of the 2019 autumn edition. 20 start-ups were admitted – 10 from the ICT sector, 5 active in healthtech and 5 in space. “Luxembourg’s multicultural and multilingual culture is a crucial aspect that attracts start-ups wishing to expand on the European market. The very good relationship that exists between all Luxembourg players also helps them quickly find good partners and funding,” concludes Ms Hulin.
Photo: © Luxinnovation / Marie De Decker