[Acceleration time] 🔦Lumière sur…imec.istart

Lumière sur Imec.istart, une structure d’accompagnement de startups en Belgique.

✍🏻Propos recueillis par Claire CAMINATI FARBER, Responsable Communication Startup Palace

Vous le savez, j’ai il y a quelque temps ici sur le blog lancé une nouvelle rubrique, Acceleration Time, pour mettre en lumière d’autres structures d’accompagnements de startups.

Après Techstars Paris (ou devrais-je dire Techstars Sustainability Paris), WeDareLab (d’Etam) ou encore H7, aujourd’hui, je vous fais voyager en 🇧🇪 puisque j’ai eu la chance d’échanger avec Andrew Herweg, Internationalization Officer chez imec.istart.

Peut-être n’avez-vous encore jamais entendu parler d’imec.istart…il est donc temps de rectifier le tir. [Interview in english!]

🎙Hey Andrew, thanks for accepting my interview request on the blog. First of all, could you please introduce yourself?

Hello, I’m Andrew Herweg and I’m the Internationalization Officer at imec.istart based in Ghent & Antwerp in Belgium. I work with our portfolio of startups and scaleups to do better business beyond Belgium. 

Over the last 12 years, I’ve worked on three different continents and in six different countries as either an entrepreneur or consultant/advisor. I’m originally from the USA but now call Belgium home!  

Imec BBQ
© Leyla Hesna

🎙Could you tell us a bit more about imec.istart? Who is it supported by?

Imec.istart, imec’s open accelerator program, offers tech startups pre-seed funding and tailored support to succeed and grow globally.

Imec.istart was launched in 2011 in Belgium as one of Europe’s first startup accelerators. More than 11 years later, we are a globally recognized program with a portfolio of over 270 startups and scaleups, including an exhaustive partner and mentor networks.

🎙How does it work?

Every year we have 3 open calls for tech startups to apply for our program.

If startups are selected for imec.istart, they get 12-18 months of coaching, at least 50K eur (and up to 250K eur) of funding and additional services – including office space. This helps start-ups to pass important milestones on their road to success which includes: product-readiness, market readiness, growth readiness and finally, investor-readiness.

🎙Who are the startups you are targeting and supporting? What are the conditions to join your program?

We are looking for startups who have a:

  • Tech product
  • Working proof of concept
  • Complementary founding team
  • Bold international ambitions/

French startups are welcome to apply for our programme. We just ask for them to demonstrate a link with Belgium, such as committing to set up a subsidiary / branch office in Belgium or setting up a collaboration with a local research institute.

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🎙Are you focusing on specific verticals?

We are an industry agnostic program.

🎙What is your model? Do startups have to pay? Are you actually investing into the startups? Tell us everything.

The imec.istart fund invests 50,000 euro in each selected startup. In return, we ask for 6% of the equity. This is for the funding and the program.

The imec.istart fund was created by the Flemish Government, ING, BNP Paribas Fortis, Telenet, Cronos, Vlaamse Energie Holding, EFIN, Verhaert and Nuhma. With substantial financial means, they want to support early-stage tech start-ups with money and non-cash support.

imec.istart is a government-funded initiative with a societal goal: to create economic value and support digital innovation and entrepreneurship in Flanders.

🎙What are you concretely offering to the startups that are selected for the program?

The imec.istart program focuses on six building blocks

  • Access to coaching
  • Access to finance
  • Access to technology
  • Access to market
  • Access to talent
  • Access to community

If you’re interested to learn more, additional info on these building blocks can be found on our website 👉🏻 https://www.imecistart.com/en/our-program.


🎙How long does a program last for?

The imec.istart program fully supports startups for 12 months. For DeepTech or MedTech startups, the period is extended to 18 months. That gives them the opportunity to acquire the needed specific certifications.

However, the graduation from the program does not necessarily mean the end of all support from imec. As long as we’re a shareholder, we’ll continue to help startups with access to funding, access-to-talent, networking and other services.

🎙What is your biggest pride with Imec.istart so far?

There are many successful graduates from the imec.istart program and their numbers grow every year. A few notorious examples are Deliverect, Ontoforce, Twikit, Waylay, UgenTec, Lightspeed (formerly POsiOS)

In 2021, we celebrated 10 years since our founding back in 2011. Since then, we have invested in and supported over 270 tech start-ups, a large portion of which consists of high-growth scale-ups (over 25%) with an above-average survival rate (85%). 

The successful results of our portfolio companies (and program) have also gained international recognition. In January, imec.istart was again granted a place in the top 3 worldwide in the University-Linked Business Accelerators ranking by UBI Global

🎙What are your main challenges?

In general, the climate and ecosystem in Belgium to start new ventures has improved significantly over the past decade. We have great talents, good research institutes that can generate breakthrough technologies, a relatively rich funding ecosystem and some good tax initiatives to stimulate innovation. Where we are lagging behind, is having enough growth funding available for scale-ups that are really on the verge of an international breakthrough, as well as when it comes to the fiscal system for stock option plans to attract and retain (international) top talent to our startups and scale-ups. 

🎙According to you what makes the strength or specificity of Imec.istart?

Young and ambitious tech-based startups can choose from a wide range of accelerator programs. But imec.istart is different. Because imec.istart:

  • is backed by imec, one of the world’s leading research institutes on new digital and nanotechnologies. That gives you unique access to the knowhow of no less than 5000 researchers.
  • has a unique network of investors and over forty industry partners such as ING, BNP Paribas Fortis, Cronos, UCB and Pfizer.
  • is consistently ranked among the best programs in Europe and even the world. 
  • provides a longer period of support: 12 to 18 months instead of the 3 to 6 months that most programs offer. In other words: you’re supported for at least one full sales cycle – ample time to build solid fundamentals for your startup.
  • accurately measures your progress. Our Innovatrix tool monitors your achievements and benchmarks them against those of your peers. This provides us and you with additional insights. 
  • has supported over 270 startups, a large portion of which consists of high-growth scale-ups with an above-average survival rate. That vast experience ensures support practices with proven efficiency and a wide network of entrepreneurs to learn from.

 🎙And last by not least, what are the topics you are currently working on at Imec.istart and you would like the entire world to know about?

In 2022, we have been trying to ‘eat our own dogfood’, by raising the bar even higher and be more ambitious ourselves. The imec.istart program has set shop in The Netherlands to enable local startups and unlock the ecosystem for our Belgian portfolio companies, and has signed agreements with strong partners in Italy to export our know-how and create opportunities for start-ups in the third largest economy of the European Union. So just like our startups, we dare to dream big 🙂

Discutons-en ! Discutons-en ! Discutons-en !