the #1 accelerator to make global impact with your tech startup
imec.istart.nl, powered by imec and Novel-T, offers tech startups pre-seed funding (between 100.000 and up to 250.000 euro per startup) and tailored support to succeed and grow globally. We support and partner with the most ambitious pre-seed startups – often as their first investor. imec.istart.nl just recently launched, but the program can count on many years of experience from both the imec.istart acceleration program in Belgium, and the business support of Novel-T. imec.istart.nl is supported by our fund partners imec, VDL Group, University of Twente, Oost NL, Cronos Group,Verhaert, Somerset Capital Partners and Simac; by our funding partners Pfizer, PontesNL, Holst Centre, Nexperia Demcon and OnePlanet Research Center.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is imec?
imec is the world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. There, you’ll find the expertise of more than 4.000 scientists and researchers in these domains.
imec collaborates with numerous acclaimed universities and companies from around the world. But it also strives to give startups and entrepreneurs a head-start on their road to market. Find out more about imec.
How does the imec.istart.nl acceleration program help my business?
imec.istart.nl is a business acceleration program that guides your tech startup through its first steps on the market.
If you’re selected for imec.istart.nl, you get 12-18 months of coaching, at least 100.000 euro of funding and additional services – including office space. This helps you to achieve important milestones on your road to success:
- product-readiness – You will reach a fully functioning solution.
- market-readiness – You prove that there is a sufficient market for your solutions. Ideally by presenting your (first) paying customers.
- growth-readiness – As a founder and entrepreneur, you acquire the necessary skills and knowhow to build your startup into a success. You also get the opportunity to install the processes that ensure your long-term growth.
- investor-readiness – You have access to a number of relevant funding sources to fuel your further growth.
How long can I stay in the imec.istart.nl program?
The imec.istart.nl program fully supports you for 12 months. Are you a DeepTech or MedTech startup? Then the period is extended to 18 months. That gives you the opportunity to acquire the needed specific certifications.
However, your graduation from the program does not necessarily mean the end of all support from imec.istart.nl. As long as we’re a shareholder, we’ll continue to help you with access to funding, access to technology, access to talent, networking, and other services.
Do I have to pay to participate in the imec.istart.nl program?
Not at all. The only thing imec.istart.nl asks is a small equity stake in your company. If your startup turns out a success, we get a nice return on our investment that enables us to invest in new startups. And our program is our way of making sure your company is a success. That’s why imec.istart.nl even sponsors additional consultancy trajectories for you.
Which companies have preceded me in the imec.istart program?
There are many successful graduates from the imec.istart program and their numbers grow every year! A few notorious examples from Belgium are Deliverect, Ontoforce, Twikit, Waylay, UgenTec, Lightspeed (formerly POsiOS). In the Netherlands 6 startups are in the program now, since the first open call in October 2021.
Am I the kind of company you’re looking for?
It’s easy to find out. Do you meet these criteria?
- You want to launch or have launched a product based on innovative technology, preferably complex technology and from the fields of health, agrifoodtech, industry 4.0, and energy. We have a slight preference for hardware startups but hardware/software or software-only startups are also welcome.
- You have a working proof-of-concept.
- You aspire to develop a scalable product or product-service combination.
- Your product amounts to a technological or business innovation.
- You address a clear problem in the market.
- You have bold international ambitions.
Then you have every reason to apply.
When am I excluded from imec.istart.nl funding?
We can’t help you if your company is a:
- consultancy firm, agency, engineering bureau, or third-party software development house such as a general project-based business or pure service company.
- startup with a product that targets industries such as military applications, gambling, or pornography.
- startup that develops me-too products without a novel technology component, disrupting business model or other innovative features.
What’s in it for imec.istart.nl?
First and foremost, imec.istart.nl is a public-private funded initiative with a societal goal: to create economic value and support digital innovation and entrepreneurship in the Netherlands.
What makes imec.istart.nl different from other accelerators or incubators?
Young and ambitious tech-based startups like yours can choose from a wide range of accelerator programs. But imec.istart.nl is different, because imec.istart.nl:
- 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 4000 researchers.
- in the Netherlands is co-founded by Novel-T, the organization that empowers the University of Twente in their status of the most entrepreneurial University of the Netherlands and has built a strong national ecosystem for innovative business.
- has a unique network of investors and partners.
- is consistently ranked among the best programs in Europe and even the world. In 2018, UBI Global ranked us as the number one university-business accelerator in Europe and the number four in the world. And the Sirris European Scaleups Reports of 2021 ranked us in the top ten.
- 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 260 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 we've got a dedicated core team of 9 renown professionals and a large community of mentors and entrepreneurs/experts in residence.
Who are the program partners of imec.istart.nl and how do I benefit from them?
We have corporate partners in quite some domains - that are definitely eager to get to know you. Discover all of our program partner on our partners page.
Will you invest in my company if I’m selected for the imec.istart.nl program?
Yes, and no less than 100,000 euro. In return, we ask for 6% of your equity. Next to this investment you benefit life long support, as long as we own part of your startup.
Finally, imec.istart.nl can decide to make an extra investment of up to 150,000 euro in your business. No promises upfront though, as that’s a decision we usually take when the program is already up-and-running.
What if I’ve already raised funding?
You can still apply if you already acquired other funding. You wouldn’t be the first: every imec.istart.nl batch contains startups who are mainly attracted to our services. However, our offer is non-negotiable: 50,000 euro + 50,000 euro as a convertible note of our money + all the in-kind support (coaching, mentoring, housing, networking,...) in exchange for 6% of your equity.
Is the valuation negotiable?
No, it’s always 50,000 euro plus 50.000 as a convertible note in exchange for 6% of equity. Did you get a better offer from other investors? So do a lot of our startups. But they still choose to join us for our support program, which is, after all, invaluable. And you can always combine imec.istart.nl with other sources of funding.
Can I spend the money any way I like?
You’re free to use your 100,000 euro on any business-related cost. Just make sure that you:
- spend no more than 15,000 euro on product development.
- don’t use the money to pay your own salary (which you can obviously pay with revenues or other sources of funding).
Can I join the imec.istart.nl program without the investment of 100.000 euro?
No, the investment is an essential part of the imec.istart.nl program. You can’t access our coaching, network, funding and other services without it.
Do I give up any control by granting shares to imec.istart.nl?
At imec.istart.nl, our goal is not to be in control of your company. You, as an entrepreneur, remain the driver of your startup. As a shareholder, we only desire an observer seat and involvement with important decisions such as investments, IP-related deals, etcetera.
Where does the funding come from?
The istart.nl Seed Fund was created by Ministry of Economy and Climate (RVO), imec, University of Twente, TNO, Cronos Group, VDL, Simac, Verhaert and Somerset Capital Partners. With substantial financial means, they want to support early-stage tech start-ups with money and non-cash support.
Can the imec.istart.nl program support me to raise extra investments?
Yes. We’ll help you to define your next-stage funding requirements. To help you fulfill those requirements, we introduce you to our international investor network and put you on stage during our Investors Days – organized twice a year. Although imec.istart.nl offer no guarantees, this greatly enhances your chances at additional funding. In fact, for every 1 EUR we invest in our startups, on average 35 EUR are additionally raised in follow-up funding by our network of investors.
And we might invest up to 150,000 euro of our own capital in your startup. Yes, that’s on top of the 100.000 euro pre-seed funding. No promises upfront though, as that’s a decision we usually take when the program is already up-and-running.
I have great idea! Is that enough to apply for funding?
No. But, don’t give up! Apply for a program that helps you to flesh out your ideas, such as Mercator Launch (Nijmegen), Novel-T (Twente), BeStart (Friesland), Demonstrator Lab (Amsterdam), Venture Lab (Groningen), The Gate (Eindhoven), Utrechtinc. (Utrecht) Investor and Market Readiness programs of the various Regional Development Companies, etc. Come back to us once your working proof-of-concept is ready.
What does the imec.istart.nl application process look like?
You’ll go through two selection phases:
1. Your entry is evaluated on paper by the investment committee of the istart.nl Seed Fund. Do they like your project? And does it fulfill all the requirements? Then you’re part of the pre-selection of startups that enter the second phase.
2. You’re invited to pitch your project in person. The investment committee asks you to give a detailed presentation of your business proposal, team composition and motivation.
In both phases of the selection process, you’re competing with other startups. Our resources are limited: we sometimes have to turn down a promising project because other ones are simply even better. So, make sure to pull out all the stops for your application.
Do you give feedback on the submission results?
Yes, we always give constructive criticism to help you strengthen your project, even if you’re not selected for the imec.istart.nl program.
What evaluation and selection criteria do you use?
Enhance your selection chances by coming up with:
an idea that:
- is highly technically or technologically innovative.
- responds to a clear customer need.
- is backed by the outline of a business model.
- has at least one clear and strong differentiator.
- is ready to compete in a defined and sufficiently large market.
a core team that:
- is committed and willing to bear the entrepreneurial risk.
- is capable of pushing technological boundaries.
- embraces external coaching.
- is ready to go global.
- can show a finished proof-of-concept of the technology, including a sketch of the required actions regarding freedom to operate (FPO) and intellectual property rights (IPR).
- envisions the possibility of a break-even within two to three years.
- aims at a sales figure of at least 1 million euro within three years and 10 million euro in the long term.
Those last two points address the financial viability of your startup; so, you might think that they’re more important than the others. Actually, the opposite is true. If two proposals are equally strong, imec.istart.nl will choose the one that excels in technological innovation and business orientation.
Furthermore, projects with a high societal impact are always eligible, even if they don’t score particularly high on the last two financial criteria.
Which documents do I need to add to my application?
Include the following documents in your online application:
- team presentation of all your team members.
- executive summary of your project (max. two pages).
- list of the milestones of your project, including budgets.
- business pitch (slide deck).
- short demo movie of your working prototype.
When can I enter my application?
Every year, during the whole months of:
- April (deadline on May 1, 11:59 pm GMT+1)
- October (deadline on November 1, 11:59 pm GMT+1)
Who is in the imec.istart.nl selection jury?
Your application will be evaluated by:
- the imec.istart.nl team
- the imec.istart.nl fund partners
Can I apply again if I’m not selected?
Yes, you can apply twice with the same project or product.
Can I get accepted for imec.istart.nl as a single founder? Or are you only looking for teams?
The startup journey can be tough, and our experience tells us that solo-founders have significantly lower chances of success. That's why imec.istart.nl only accepts startups with at least 2 co-founders, of which at least 1 is willing to commit full-time upon acceptance into the program.
I don’t speak Dutch. Can I still apply?
Yes, all of the program communications and workshops will be in English.
My company’s not in the Netherlands. Can I apply for funding?
If you’re incorporated in another country, you can still apply.
For startups from other countries, you will have to move your headquarters to the Netherlands in order for us to invest in your company.
Know that foreign entrepreneurs, i.e. non-EU entrepreneurs, need a work permit (and therefore temporary residence permit) to set up their business in the Netherlands. We're proudly recognized by the Dutch government as an accredited accelerator through which foreign entrepreneurs can obtain their permit more easily. We advise you to apply for a startup visa via Startup Visa NL.
Can my company be ‘too far along’ to apply for the imec.istart.nl program?
It’s hard to be too mature, so the general answer is no. Unless you feel that we will no longer be able to help you with the development and further growth of your startup.
Do you already have investors? Then don’t apply without checking if they agree with the imec.istart.nl conditions.
Can I apply if my company isn’t incorporated yet?
Yes, you can. But once you’re selected, make sure you’re incorporated before the program starts. After all, we need a company in which to invest the 100 000 euro.
My company is a spin-off. Am I eligible to apply for the imec.istart.nl program?
Yes, as long as:
- there’s a clear split between both businesses.
- the intellectual property entirely belongs to your spin-off. Or has been licensed to your startup with a fitting freedom to operate.
- the spin-off team is fully committed to making your project a success.
Can you review my application before I submit it?
No, the amount of applications we receive at each open call is just too massive. However, don’t hesitate to send in your specific questions at any time through our contact page.
How many startups do you accept each call in the program?
We usually accept between four to five startups per cohort. But we refuse to tie ourselves to a fixed number. It’s a lot more important to select those startups that can really benefit from our program.
Our company is already engaged in another accelerator program. Can we still apply for imec.istart.nl?
Yes, but that might prove too big a challenge for you, depending on the intensity of the other accelerator program. Because we expect you to dedicate sufficient time to the imec.istart.nl program – including attendance at all sessions and events.
When does the imec.istart.nl program start and end?
Typically, three weeks after the submission deadline, you know whether you’re selected for the program. And our support starts as soon as you’ve signed your contract.
Do I have to move to The Netherlands to participate?
No, but you must be able to to attend our mandatory meetings in Enschede or Nijmegen, such as quarterly acceleration boards and workshops. This amounts to an average of 1 week per quarter.
Can I, or a part of my team, participate part-time?
Yes, but we don’t recommend it. In our experience, startups who only work part time are less likely to succeed. So it improves your chances at selection and long-term success if you fully commit.
Keep in mind that at least 1 of the co-founders has to be willing to commit full-time upon acceptance into the program.
Do I have to follow every workshop during the program?
Most of our workshops are tailored to the needs of your startup. Those are mandatory and require at least one of your team to be present. Other workshops are optional. But if you want to reap all the rewards of our program, why would you skip them?
How intense is the program? Will I have enough time left to run my business?
We realize that starting up a business is already intense and challenging. The program doesn’t require your full-time presence. And we never fill up entire work weeks with workshop and events. All activities are spread over the entire duration of the program, giving you ample time to absorb the insights and putting them to good use.
Do you have office space that we can use during the imec.istart.nl program?
Yes. For one year, your startup has access to maximum three seats in one location – paid for by imec.istart.nl. That only includes office space, not extras such as parking space or printing costs.
Can you help us to get funded after the program ends?
Yes, by preparing you for and introducing you to our network of imec, Novel-T, and a network of international investors: business angels, VC funds, corporates, banks, crowdfunding platforms, ...
On top of that, we put you in the spotlight during the Investors Days that we organize twice a year for an international investor audience. And obviously, we’ll try to get you on stage at other events that are swarming with investors.
Incidentally, we might invest up to an additional 150.000 euro ourselves during or after the imec.istart.nl program.
Can we still use your network after the program?
Yes, just ask us who you would like to meet, and we’ll try to set up your introduction to national or international corporate decision makers. And you always remain welcome at our regular barbecues, Founders Circles, and other network events.
Do I have to stay in the Netherlands after the imec.istart.nl program ends?
You don’t have to, but we do prefer you to. And why wouldn’t you? It certainly makes it easier for you to receive extra support from us. Besides, the Netherlands has enough assets to justify keeping at least a significant portion of your activities here.
How long does imec.istart.nl wish to hold a share in my company?
Just like any investor, our ultimate goal is to exit your startup at some point. When? Ideally, before the seven-year anniversary of our investment.
But, of course, we’re not quite like any investor. Our big goal is to help you build a sustainable company in the long run. So, we’re happy to be patient until that happens.
On the other hand, don’t hesitate to contact us at any moment if you want to buy back our shares in your company.
Can imec.istart.nl help me to go international?
Yes. Once your project is in an advanced stage, we’re happy to support you in crossing the borders. imec.istart.nl has access to people and facilities around the world. And our dedicated internationalization officer helps you to connect with local players, guides you to promising events and advises you on how to do business abroad.
Should I worry about my intellectual property if I apply for imec.istart.nl?
Rest assured, we only show your application to the imec.istart.nl selection jury, which signs a confidentiality agreement. Because we get a lot of applications, and for other practical reasons, we don’t draw up an NDA. Is this an issue for you? Please contact us and we’ll discuss it.
Do you fund companies that are each other’s competitors?
We do our best not to. But companies and the products they bring to market often evolve over time. So, we can’t completely rule out that they move on each other’s turf.
In any case, we always ensure that:
- there is never an exchange of sensitive data.
- competitive companies are coached by a different venture acceleration manager.
I’d like to advise startups. Can I be of use to imec.istart.nl?
Can I drop by your office unannounced?
Don’t risk the disappointment of coming by and finding we’re out of the office. Drop us an e-mail and we’ll gladly make an appointment or schedule a call with you.
What’s the success rate of the application process?
It can be as high as 15% per call. But it always depends on the number of submissions and their individual quality: we don’t have a fixed number of startups to select per call. So, there’s no such thing as a ‘favorable draw’ for you. Always assume you’re competing with other stellar startups and do your utmost to get into the selection.
HOW CAN IMEC.ISTART.NL GROW YOUR TECH STARTUP?
Want to have a better impression how imec.istart.nl can give your tech startup the best chances at success? Rewatch this info session webinar (of the imec.istart program in Belgium) where we guide you through our program and explain the selection and application procedure.
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