Imec start-up incubation for digital entrepreneurs

imec start-up incubation programme diagram

For those looking to kick-start their tech business, this imec start-up incubation programme offers support with coaching, facilities and funding

Imec.istart is an imec business incubation programme that supports tech start-ups with coaching, facilities and funding. The programme has been recognised by UBI Global as one of the world’s best University Business Accelerators.

Imec is the world-leading research and development and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. As a trusted partner for companies, start-ups and academia, imec brings together brilliant minds from all over the world in a creative and stimulating environment. By leveraging a world-class infrastructure, as well as local and global ecosystem of diverse partners across a multitude of industries, imec accelerates progress towards a connected, sustainable future.

Imec start-up incubation takes off

As part of its activities, imec has created a leading business incubation programme, imec.istart, to support young tech start-ups in developing their business. Getting a tech start-up off the ground requires skills, resources and the right technology. Turning it into a success is an even bigger challenge. The imec.istart programme offers entrepreneurs and start-ups in-depth coaching, facilities and support services, as well as a safe and stimulating environment to develop and grow their business.

The goal of an imec.istart incubation project is to assess the feasibility of its (digital) business idea, create a start-up to drive commercialisation and prepare the (commercial) launch of its first product(s). The programme is open to any entrepreneurs (be it from the imec research community, other academic researchers, external entrepreneurs or students) who wish to engage in the commercialisation of a technology-driven innovation or project.

The imec.istart programme combines pre-seed funding, coaching and mentoring, and other types of support (e.g. housing, software deals, marketing and communications support). The coaching and mentoring aspect focuses on access to market, technology, finance and talent. Additionally, imec.istart (often together with industry partners) offers market-specific support. The following figure depicts the overall imec.istart offering.

The basic offering of imec.istart consists of pre-seed funding of €50,000 (under certain conditions extendable up to €150,000), complemented with a substantial package of coaching and mentoring by experienced imec Innovation Managers and external industry experts. These coaches and mentors advise the start-ups for an intensive 12- to 18-month period on all aspects of their business. Industry experts are used to cover specific topics, such as B2B sales, branding, legal matters related to fundraising, or intellectual property rights in start-ups. Additionally, the start-ups can count on marketing and communications support, housing, and additional perks and benefits provided by imec.istart partners (including software deals from amongst others Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Hubspot, Github, and many others).

This little start-up went to market

One of the 4 focus domains of the imec.istart programme is access to market. The programme helps start-ups prepare for the market launch of their first product(s), by challenging their business model, by helping them shape their pricing strategy, or by suggesting the most optimal go-to-market strategy for their specific product(s). Imec’s local and international network also provides invaluable introductions to help find reference customers or commercial partners.

Being primarily a research organisation combining the strengths of over 3,500 researchers, imec has a vast amount of innovative technologies in its portfolio. One of imec.istart’s missions is to help its start-ups use these technologies by lowering the adoption barriers.

Imec.istart also supports its start-ups by providing access to finance, as most start-ups need additional funding to achieve growth. The imec.istart coaches advise the start-ups in developing a sound business and financial plan, help them practice their pitching skills and provide them with access to local and international investors. Different reports and benchmarks (including the 2015 benchmark by UBI Global and the Europe Scale-Up Report 2016 by Omar Mohout) have positioned imec.istart as one of Europe’s most successful programmes in terms of creating scale-ups (i.e. start-ups that attract at least 1 million EUR in follow-up funding). Twice a year, imec organises an Investor Day to draw attention to some of its most promising start-ups.

Matching start-ups with mentors

Last but not least, the imec.istart programme aims at reinforcing start-up teams. In the first place, it helps the founders develop additional skills and acquire new knowledge through coaching, expert advice and workshops. Secondly, imec.istart has teamed up with partners that can help the start-ups get in touch with highly talented master students, and engage with those as interns, freelancers and/or (future) employees. Last but not least, through its entrepreneur-in-residence programme, imec.istart matches start-ups with experienced entrepreneurs to join their teams.

For certain industries, mainly those in which imec.istart already has a few start-ups in its portfolio, market-specific services have been developed by imec and its vertical partners. In the healthcare industry, for example, additional workshops and experts are available to cover CE certification and/or FDA approval of digital innovations. In the media and entertainment industry, imec’s partners open up their production systems or provide datasets to experiment with. Additionally, in this vertical, imec’s partners can top imec’s pre-seed investment with another €50,000.

Entrepreneurs from anywhere around the globe are welcome to join the growing community of 120 successful imec.istart start-ups, as long as they’re willing to establish a substantial part of their business in the Belgian region of Flanders or Brussels. For example, this can be their headquarters, an R&D development office or a sales office for Western Europe. Imec.istart has 3 application calls per year (in January, May and September).


Sven De Cleyn

Program Manager imec.istart


Tel: +32 474 29 76 94



Please note: this is a commercial profile



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