We – my wife Cheryl and I – have been in the startup game since 2010, starting and selling a digital media company. And then as all startup junkies do, we jumped into another one … Dispatches Europe.
But we’ve always raised capital through private investor networks and never gone through incubators or accelerators.
We’ve been to too many minor startup events including Startup Weekends, startup meetups and college pitch competitions.
Moreover, we aggregate lists of the best tech/startup events across Europe. But we’d never experienced a major-league, international startup event till Tuesday.
Cheryl and I were honored to be mentors on panels hearing pitches from startups at HighTechXL’s Impact Summit, held in the conference center at High Tech Campus Eindhoven.
The summit, which started Sunday and ended yesterday, was HighTechXL’s first three-track event, adding fintech to their original high-tech/medtech hardware mission.
HighTechXL screened 5,000 applicants, invited 75 startups from 23 countries, prepped them, then put them in front of corporations and mentors.
(For the record, it should be noted co-founder and CEO Guus Frericks and his team pulled this off in only four months.)
In the end, 25 would be selected for either HighTechXL’s Launchpad corporate program, or the full HightechXL accelerator.
Our big takeaway: If you have a promising concept and a team with the technical skills to make it into a business, you can take a giant leap toward becoming market-ready via events such as these. Though it’s pretty clear there aren’t many startup events like Impact Summit, both bringing together corporations and startups for challenges in the Launchpad track AND startups to pitch for the HighTechXL 3-month accelerator.
Nordic Automation Systems ended up taking the Get in the Ring contest, the final Impact Summit event. Get in the Ring is a global competition that stages a boxing-style format where team representatives have to think fast, getting in their licks, making their cases for advancing in timed rounds.
Nordic will advance to the next round of Get in the Ring, which operates in 150 countries.
Standouts for us were:
- Nordic Automation Systems from Estonia builds sensor technologies, data analysis and monitoring hardware for tracking water and utilities via apps. NAS has about 25 employees in its Norwegian and Estonian offices.
- Othera: This was particularly impressive … a Sydney, Australia-based blockchain-based digital asset trading platform (read MBS) and peer-to-peer lending evaluator/broker. Yes, it’s complicated. Judges and audience members asked repeatedly, “… and what exactly is it you do?”, but it’s the future.
- CancerAid from Australia. This was easily the most polished group, with two radiation oncologists in the lead. That, and they’ve raised $2.3 million. They already have 30,000 patients in 24 countries using their tech, which does everything from gives patients a plethora of info at their fingertips. Oh, and did we mention they just scored $500,000 from the Australian version of Shark Tank? (See the vid above.)
- OrelTECH: This startup from Israel is developing cold-temperature tech that can print metal on different surfaces and fabrics. Think silver circuitry in the space industry. Or something like that … as laypeople, we had a difficult time getting it. But we think it is either a solution in search of a problem or a huge technical breakthrough.
- OPPI: Students from Mexico developed a patented chemical process that makes all kinds of paint both less expensive to produce and environmentally friendly. They kept showing us the polymer structure and we kept telling them, “You know, you might want to keep this a little closer to the vest when you’re talking with big chemical companies.”
We want to be clear … these are just the startups we saw. Remember, there were at least 70 that showed up.
(See the full list of winners here.)
One of the insights I came away with as a mentor hearing pitches is how difficult it is to assess ideas and teams. The first person I and co-mentor Jelle Schunselaar of Brainport Development met with was Ben Linville-Engler, from Bloomer Tech. Bloomer Tech is women’s heart-health monitoring startup developing tech that can be integrated into everyday clothing such as bras.
Wearables are a hot category, but Bloomer Tech will be up against all the fitness/health-monitoring apps and wearables … a pretty crowded field. I voted to include Bloomer Tech in the accelerator based on Linville-Engler’s industry experience, thoughtful and articulate pitch and especially his educational bonafides including his current status as a fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s System Design & Management program.
Alas, Ben didn’t make the cut. But clearly, Eindhoven is starting to attract stellar global talent.
• Excitement: If Impact Summit is any indication, mega-events are never dull. You’re surrounded by really smart people doing interesting things. Guus & Co. excelled at pacing. We arrived at 8:30 a.m. and the 1-minute pitches started on time, followed by panels, followed by lunch, followed by keynote speakers, the final voting, the Get in the Ring showdown and finally, the big reveal of winners.
The total attendance had to have been pushing 1,000 people through the three days, so to organize, vet and feed that many people is pretty amazing.
Wait …. then there were the parties. And all of this was at a facility on a Class-A corporate research campus with dedicated events space including an auditorium wired for vid and state-of-the-art lighting and sound.
• Inspiration: We’ve heard a lot of speakers both live and via TEDTalks, but I don’t think we’ve heard any as candid as Michel Decré, who founded Sapiens with Sjaak Deckers and Hubert Martens. Decré’s advice to the startup teams is that purpose-driven startups have a lot better chance of success. That, and success – as everyone who’s been through a startup and an exit knows – can be a bitch. He was happy to show his scars.
Sapiens’ purpose was developing neuro-stimulation technology that could reduce tremors in people with conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease. They wanted, Decré told the crowd, to start a company that would have a “sustainable, positive impact on people.” All three were at Philips, the Dutch electronics multinational when Sapiens started as an internal project.
Just as they had their first clinical validation, Philips bailed on them, Decré said. After years – even decades – at Philips, Decré, Deckers and Martens quit in 2011 to start Sapiens to keep the dream alive. They raised millions, achieved their goal, then sold Sapiens to U.S. medical-equipment giant Medtronic for $200 million in 2014.
Happy ending, right? Noooo. In 2016, Medtronic shuts down the whole project. Yes, our entrepreneurial heroes got rich, but Decré said they never really achieved their purpose. Now, he’s back in the game with Salvin BioElectronics: “I won’t quit.”
• Global: We personally met startup team members from the Netherlands, Israel, India, Pakistan, the U.S., Latvia, Mexico and Australia. Clearly, HighTechXL is the secret sauce in Eindhoven’s plan to attract top international talent. If you are one, you should think about coming here.
• Networking: Impact Summit was great for us because we met so many people and accelerated (so to speak) friendships with people in the Eindhoven startup ecosystem with whom we hadn’t spent a lot of time. And there was beer at the end. A Dispatches tip: It’s easy to get carried away at these things. We started out drinking Hertog Jan, good Dutch Beer, but finished drinking Jupiler’s new 0.0 alcohol-free beer.
Alcohol can make you tired, and these things are marathons. Also, you won’t make any friends with the Politie if you get caught driving home with a buzz … and, sadly, there are no startup events in jail.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.