(Editor’s note: Dispatches covers technology, startups and innovation centers because that’s where our highly skilled internationals tend to work. That includes HighTechXL, where expat team members and staffers represent at least a dozen countries. If you’d like to join a team, email Nikki : [email protected])
Is this the most successful innovation effort in Europe?
By almost every metric, HighTechXL is one Adyen-style exit away from becoming Europe’s most high-profile venture-builder. And a 2018 pivot to deep tech makes a breakout even more likely.
In 2018, HighTechXL CEO and co-founder Guus Frericks announced the high-tech accelerator would become a nine-month deep-tech venture building effort, more relevant to Eindhoven’s technical profile than the original three-month conventional tech accelerator program.
Eindhoven has produced foundational semiconductor companies such as ASML, which is the deep-tech equivalent of a Schlumberger to Royal Dutch Oil … the behind-the-scenes company making the essential machinery powering the high-profile industry giants. Other major players include chipmaker NXP and Philips, which itself has shifted from consumer electronics to healthtech.
Drawing on that tradition, HighTechXL’s leadership set out to create a new generation of tech companies built on the most advanced research.
Here’s the new methodology:
• HighTechXL begins the venture-building process by sourcing technologies from research institutions such as CERN, TNO and Philips. Then, they hold a FasTrackathon – a reverse-hackathon – where technologies and potential application areas are up for grabs.
• HighTechXL promotes FasTrackathon, inviting engineers, physicists and professionals such as business development experts, finance managers and entrepreneurs to join the teams.
• Individuals and teams attend a half-day idea session, build a business model canvas and pitch their business ideas at the end of the day.
• HighTechXL recruits additional team members interested in taking the technology to market and holds pre-program sessions to further strengthen the teams.
• FasTrackathon teams go through a selection process, then teams begin the nine-month venture building program.
The first deep-tech cohort has produced three solid companies:
• Incooling, which is developing new technology for cooling CPUs and GPUs in data centers, is preparing for CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Incooling team members have been to Taiwan several times and all over Europe attending events and winning pitch competitions. The startup has raised more than 600,000 euros.
• Dynaxion team members have been the United States twice as part of the Opioid Detection Challenge, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The team received $100,000 from the ODC. Dynaxion uses CERN’s small particle accelerator to scan packages and freight at the atomic level, helping stop the shipment of drugs and other illicit materials.
• Aircision has been selected for Hello Tomorrow’s Deep Tech Pioneers. The team heads for Paris in March 2020, selected out of more than 5,000 startups. Aircision uses CERN-developed laser technology to build a crucial link in the 5G communications matrix.
The quick development of the new deep-tech ventures is built on the foundation of the original effort – which dates back to 2013 – and its remarkable record of success.
Yes, Y Combinator and 500 Startups have birthed bigger names and billion-dollar exits. But both have been operating longer … and both have far higher failure rates, about 90 percent.
Moreover, HighTechXL operates in an ecosystem that – while rich in tech talent – lacks many of the most important ingredients that make Silicon Valley so successful. First and foremost, that includes a networks of early stage investors much less a Sand Hill Road-like concentration of giant venture capital firms.
Yet, HighTechXL has created successful companies with global impact from the Netherlands to China, where it also has operations. Since its inception, HighTechXL startups and scale-ups coming out of Eindhoven have created more 1,945 jobs and raised more than 79 million euros.
In six years, almost 70 percent of HighTechXL companies have survived, and 17 are in the “Star Portfolio,” with 10X projected returns.
• Accerion, based in Venlo, Netherlands, makes positioning technology for mobile robots and autonomous guided vehicles. Accerion sells their products in several global markets and recently received a significant A Round backed by Phoenix Contact Innovation Ventures, based in Germany, in syndication with the economic development agency for the Limburg Province (LIOF).
• Amber Mobility, based in Eindhoven, has created a ride-sharing network of electric vehicles, with plans to introduce autonomous vehicles in the future. Amber has raised millions in capital including from Pala Group BV since its initial 500,000 euro friends-and-family round, expanding beyond Eindhoven with hubs all over the Netherlands.
• Bambi Medical, based in Eindhoven, has developed a wireless vital sign monitor device for premature babies. Bambi has raised at least 4 million euros from private investors and 2.4 million euros from Horizon2020.
• byFlow, based at High Tech Campus Eindhoven, makes 3D food printers for the restaurant industry. The Eindhoven-based company has received international media coverage including spots on BBC, CBS Morning and on industry and tech websites.
• LifeSense Group makes sensors and health-tech wearables used to detect urine loss in women, men and children. The company has raised several million in investment capital, with operations in Asia and plans to expand into the U.S. market.
• Manus VR, based in Geldrop, Netherlands, has developed virtual reality gloves for VR training and built an environment for testing. Clients including NASA and several gaming companies. Based in Eindhoven, Manus raised a 2 million euro A round from Eindhoven Venture Fund II in 2019.
• Sustonable, based in Amsterdam, developed a process for combining recycled PET waste from plastics with quartz to produce the world’s first circular composite stone for kitchen surfaces and other uses. The company has raised several million euros in later-stage capital, including 2.2 million euros from Horizon2020. The company has plans to expand in other global markets.
• TicTag is based in Utrecht. In September, TicTag earned the top prize of the KVK Innovation Top 100 award. TicTag just went to Shenzen, China with Outpie Partners as part of the China Europe Smart Tech & Creative Industry Summit. TicTag developed metal tag technology that allows customers to connect to pretty much anything via a smartphone.
• ULU develops IoT technology for vehicles, including Cartracker for tracking delivery fleet data. The company has more than 15,000 subscribers and offices in Amsterdam, Ljubljana, London and Shenzen.
So, why the dramatic pivot to deep tech?
Founder Frericks was on a mission when HighTechXL pivoted:
“We said, ‘What would happen if we only worked with propositions where we as a region can make a difference?’ Do we start with high tech startups or take it one step further and take ground-breaking technology as a starting point?”
The pivot started with HighTechXL making an historic alliance with Switzerland-based CERN to take to market the latest tech from the world’s largest particle physics lab. “CERN said, ‘Well, if there’s a region in Europe where you can make a difference in certain areas, it’s Eindhoven.’ There was a high level of trust we could do something spectacular with those CERN technologies,” Frericks said.
The pivot involved moving from accelerating teams building high-tech products to sourcing technology from research institutions, then finding the right people for teams to take the tech to market. The new HighTechXL “is powered by the local ecosystem,” Frericks said.
The previous five years accelerating high-tech startups helped develop “very close relationships in the region” with major players in the ecosystem. Having the trust of the major players – entrepreneurs, corporate leaders and tech talent – meant it was easier to mobilize the collective technical might of the Brabant region for the new HighTechXL approach.
The current list of HighTechXL alumni that are still in business:
Green Earth Aerogels Technologies; Amen Technologies Greece; Ato-Gear; Avular; Manus VR; LifeSense Group; Ulu; Accerion; Brite Solar; byFlow; DashTag; Gotoky; Sealeau; Sensoraide; Amber Mobility; Usono; Spinal Tech; Crayonic; IPOS Technology; BerkelBike; UScoutFor; Onera; Oriense; Sustonable; UVisio; Dario Health; Hakken Enterprise; Heartin; Liquidweb; Project Ipsilon; TicTag; MiniFab3D; AirBliss+; Ubik Solutions; MindYourPass; Recath/Eindhoven Medical Robotics; 4Quant; Assymetical Medical; OptNet
HighTechXL is in Building 27 on High Tech Campus Eindhoven, part of the largest startup hub in the Netherlands. Working with Nikhef, the Dutch physics research center, the effort is funded by the Eindhoven Startup Alliance, which includes ASML, Philips and other companies.
The next FasTrackathon is 19 February 2020.
If you’re interested in joining a team, email Nikki: [email protected]
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.