9 August 2018

Imec.istart tops €100 million

The imec.istart business accelerator programme, of which ING is one of the partners, has good reason to celebrate. Seven years since the establishment of the programme, it passed the €100 million mark in investments in the participating start-ups.

It thus belongs to the top three percent of programmes worldwide that succeed in helping start-ups to obtain follow-up financing. And the acceleration continues! 

“Our two-hundred million party may well be as early as 2019”

In the meantime, the counter now stands above € 125 million. The imec.istart programme has thus achieved a leverage factor of 17, meaning that for every euro of its own investment, it was able to bring in seventeen euros in external follow-up financing. Sven De Cleyn, programme manager at imec.istart, is a happy man: “This demonstrates that we have truly been able to create a leverage effect with our small initial investments, with the result that we prepare start-ups for their next stage of growth and other financiers will be prepared to take over from us. At our ‘hundred million party’ in February I predicted, moreover – at first jokingly – that our two-hundred million party may well be as early as 2019. I think that my prediction was not too far off, when I see how quickly things are moving now.”

Investing at the earliest stage

The imec.istart programme has been around since 2011, when the whole start-up scene in Flanders was still in its infancy. . Under the impetus of imec (prior to the iMinds merger) and with the support of the Flemish government, it was at the time one of the first accelerator programmes in Flanders. Imec.istart is a so-called pre-seed accelerator, which means that it focuses on start-ups in the earliest stages of their business operations. At that stage, new businesses are engaged in market research, product design, intellectual property and the design of a business model. By investing in them and assisting them in that early period, imec.istart prepares its participants to find their first clients and (where necessary) external investors.

Growth, partly thanks to partners
“Thanks to partners such as ING, we can offer a full range of expertise.”

The programme now counts more than one hundred and fifty participants and alumni. The time they spend with imec.istart is an average of 16 months, with minimum twelve (and maximum 18) months. In its first years, imec.istart accepted around 20 start-ups per year. Since ING joined in 2015, the annual capacity has risen to around 25. But that increase in the number of participants is not the main reason for the recent success. Sven De Cleyn remarks: Naturally, this larger portfolio helps to attract more investors. But the growth in follow-up financing that we are now seeing has to do mainly with the maturity of the participating businesses, of our support and of the start-up scene in general. 

In any case, you can see the effect of the small businesses that started in the programme in the early years and are now relatively far ahead in their development. Their businesses have matured significantly, they are able to attract investors much more easily, and typically they also need larger sums in order to extend their activities internationally. In addition, our own services have also expanded and improved. It is certainly due to the help received from partners like ING, and a few others who have in the meantime joined the programme, that we can offer start-ups a full range of services. And lastly, we see that the investment climate has made important advances when it comes to start-ups. In the past few years, many investment funds have entered the scene in Belgium. We are also seeing a diversification in the options for financing. In the early years, our start-ups had to rely primarily on risk capital, such as from venture capitalists and business angels. In the meantime, banks and large companies have also begun to offer pre-seed investments. And crowdfunding has also been on the rise. In addition, we are also seeing a geographical evolution. Increasingly, we find ourselves on the radar of foreign investors. For the moment these are still chiefly from other European countries, but the rest of the world is just around the corner.”

If start-ups themselves start engaging in takeovers

Finding investors is one thing. But for Sven De Cleyn there is another parameter that he is enthusiastic about: “I am looking forward to the time when our start-ups will not only be taken over, but themselves will start engaging in takeovers. For me, that will be the point when we will have taken another major step in maturity.” Whether that will happen sooner rather than later, he’s not yet prepared to say.

If you are interested in imec.istart

Getting involved in imec.istart can be done in several different ways:

  • As a participant, you can enter an open call three times a year. The call is held in January, May and September, and the bar is kept deliberately low. Imec.istart is intended more particularly for technology start-ups, in both the software and the hardware sectors.
  • Imec.istart also has a customised offer for business partners, in return for their making available their expertise in the accelerator programme.
  • And for investors, it organises an exclusive event twice a year, at which the 25 most promising participants can make their pitch. The next event is scheduled for 28 November.