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HighTechXL: Bringing the world’s most promising hardware startups to Eindhoven

From left to right, USONO team members Victor Donker, Jori Verbeek and Benjamin Tchang

(Editor’s note: This post was updated with additional information.)

Since its founding in 2013, HighTechXL accelerator has itself accelerated from zero to 100 as it helped hardware startup teams develop their business models.

The hardware accelerator started with 10 projects in 2013, then another 10 projects in 2014.

That number more than doubled to 22 for 2015, then trebled to 60 in 2016.

This year, founder and CEO Guus Frericks projects HighTechXL will have between 165 and 200 projects including both startups and intrapreneurial teams from a variety of corporations.

Frericks’ vision was to create an accelerator relevant on a global scale, designed to attract the best and brightest from around the world to the high-tech capital of Eindhoven.

Startups can qualify if they’re working in one of eight application areas: IoT, smart sensor networks, advanced robotics, MedTech, CleanTech, energy storage or research into autonomous or near-autonomous vehicles including drones.

Currently, there are teams from the Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Russia and Brazil working at HighTechXL’s workspace at High Tech Campus. The next Demo Day is Thursday, 16 March and you can register here.

Frericks said he’s gone global because Eindhoven’s major multinationals are “absolutely dependent on talent from abroad simply because we do not have sufficient students coming out of the universities here in the Netherlands.”

High Tech Campus Eindhoven

High Tech Campus Eindhoven

Eindhoven-based companies know how to attract top engineering talent. “I said okay, if we can attract top engineering talent, it should also be possible to attract top engineering entrepreneurial talent.

“And that’s happening.”

Like most other startup accelerators, HighTechXL is demanding and unforgiving. “If they do not keep up with the pace and they do not hit their weekly deliverables, they’re out,” Frericks said in a recent interview. “I don’t care if we start with 10 projects and we only reach the finish line with one, we’ll do it.

“It’s not our objective to bring all the teams in our program to the finish line. It is our objective to bring the good ones.”

The problem is, instead of refining their business plans, the men and women in the teams spend too much of their time chasing capital. Moreover, getting high-tech hardware to market typically takes five to seven years … much longer than consumer-facing web & app startups.

The solution is to integrate the startups into Eindhoven’s ecosystem, matching them to established companies so fast moving young companies can take advantage of the big corporations’ global footprints, distribution networks and supply chain capabilities.

HighTechXL’s location on the High Tech Campus and its relationships with established companies such as Amsterdam-based electronics giant Philips and ASLM (see a related post here) means young entrepreneurs connect directly to mentors and potential investors.

“Look around … 150 companies,” Frericks said, sitting in his offices on the High Tech Camps. “You have to be a true idiot if in this space you cannot find either your development partner, your supply chain partner, your design for quality partner, your embedded software partner, your distribution partner. Your lead client.”

On top of it, startups working with companies such as Philips gives them instant credibility “because why would Philips team up with a young company being a respected brand if the technology wasn’t exceptional?” he said.

Current HighTechXL startups include:

• UVISO, from Berlin, makes patches that track sun exposure. The patches measure the exact amount of a person’s sun exposure time based on UV, the personal risk profile, and a calculation of aggregated sun exposure over time.

• Oriense, from Russia, is creating technology to enable the visually impaired to become self-reliant. The computer vision-based wearable employs location services and audio output to help blind people navigate from point A to point B bypassing obstacles and staying informed of their surroundings.

• Berkel Bike, from Eindhoven, created electrical stimulation technology that makes it possible for patients with spinal cord injuries stay active. The Berkel Bike can also help other groups, such as people with MS, brain injuries, or amputee patients.

• Hugsy is developing a new form of neuroprotective and developmental care for preterm babies that simulates Kangaroo Care by exposing babies to the parental heartbeat, smell, and supportive positioning while they are in the incubator.

• Crayonic from Slovakia makes signing of electronic documents as easy as the traditional handwritten, pen-and-paper way, yet even more secure than current state-of-the-art digital technologies.

Here are just a few of the HighTechXL alumi:

• USONO designs devices to free ultrasound medical testing from current limitations. The startup is now a stand-alone company based at High Tech Campus. USONO just closed its first investment round raising 176,000 euros, 26,000 euros more than its target.

Dispatches will have a more detailed update in conjunction with the upcoming HighTechXL demo day.

• Bambi-Belt is developing technology that will replace adhesive electrodes used to monitor premies with a wireless monitoring device and a base-station that processes the signals in patterns of breathing, heart rate and temperature and sends them to the patient monitor. Bambi-Belt just attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and has received several rounds of investment. Dispatches will have an update in conjunction with HighTechXL demo day.

• byFLOW is a 3D food printing company. Currently, byFlow produces 30 printers per month. By April, the startup expects to be at a run-rate of 100 units.

• LifeSense Group, which makes wearables, just won the top prize in Munich for its medtech wearable Carin product that detects urine leakage. LifeSense Group was selected one of the 29 finalists from a submission pool of 400 companies from over 60 countries. Carin makes hi-tech underwear that allows women to monitor urine loss throughout the day and other bladder-control issues.

• Avular builds industrial drones for agriculture, industrial inspections, surveying, as well as custom projects.

The money:

The first three editions of HighTechXL were funded by a combination of an informal investor network in combination with Philips. Chipmaker NXP was also a sponsor. Now, the Eindhoven Startup Alliance, a private-public partnership, owns HighTechXL. The alliance includes the company that owns High Tech Campus, ASML, Amsterdam-based bank ABN AMRO, and BOM Capital, an economic development fund for the Brabant region where Eindhoven is located.

“The next (goal) is, we need faster and structured access to capital,” Frericks said. “We are investigating the possibility of building a fund, specifically for HighTechXL-related propositions.

Promising hardware startups typically can raise up to a million euros with smaller investors and smaller VCs. “The moment you go above 1 million euros, it gets difficult,” Frericks said.

Problem is, hardware companies need between 500,000 euros and 1 million euros to go from small series production to large series production.

“The companies we’re working with need between a half-million and two and a half million, and we call that ‘seed,’ ” Frericks said. “Let’s not forget that in many cases … millions already have been put into reaching the stage of being ready to prototype.”

He pointed to current HighTechXL cohort Sustonable, which uses new technology to recycle PET –  the component materials in plastics – into engineered stone. The technology was spun out of Shell Oil, and researched for more than 15 years, with 15 million to 20 million euros in R&D to get it to the point where it’s a viable process.

“There is a factor of luck. But with our support and our network, we should be able to create life-changing companies which have an impact on a global basis,” Frericks said.

“You either disrupt, or you’ll be disrupted.”

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