A Pi­o­neer in the Ecosys­tem

Silicon Luxembourg - - COVER STORY -

HE HAS BEEN AT IT FOR 16 YEARS AND KNOWS THE ECOSYS­TEM BET­TER THAN ANY­ONE. MEET THE MAN WHO TOOK TECHNOPORT, LUX­EM­BOURG'S MAIN IN­CU­BA­TOR, TO THE NEXT LEVEL. HIS DOOR IS AL­WAYS OPEN TO EA­GER EN­TREPRENEURS WHO WANT TO GET STARTED OR SCALE UP THEIR BUSI­NESSES. THESE DAYS YOU'LL ALSO FIND HIM RUN­NING AROUND EUROPE IN AN EF­FORT TO CON­NECT LUX­EM­BOURG WITH OTHER MA­JOR HUBS. WHO IS HE?

DIEGO DE BIASIO, WHY TECHNOPORT?

Do you mean “Why Technoport” as a brand or as a job?

For the brand it's quite sim­ple: it's a com­bi­na­tion of two French words: tech­nolo­gie for tech­nol­ogy-ori­ented com­pa­nies and port, as in har­bor, where en­trepreneurs can moor and then leave to ex­pand into new and big­ger mar­kets. A har­bor is usu­ally an area pro­tected from rough water by piers, jet­ties and struc­tures, sim­i­lar to what an in­cu­ba­tor should be for these en­trepreneurs. It is a place you can also re­turn to – some se­rial en­trepreneurs have done so in the past, which I guess shows that they ap­pre­ci­ated the har­bor.

Now for the job. I some­how fell into it. It was not re­ally planned. I met Mr. Claude We­henkel, for­mer CEO of the Pub­lic Re­search Cen­ter Henri Tu­dor, for my mas­ter the­sis. We agreed to a one-hour in­ter­view, which ac­tu­ally turned into a four-hour dis­cus­sion. It was his sec­re­tary, Mrs. Daisy Thill, who stopped us. Af­ter my stud­ies I ap­plied for sev­eral jobs and got an of­fer from the Re­search Cen­ter, which orig­i­nally had noth­ing to do with Technoport. That's when Mr. We­henkel called me and asked if I would like to work part-time at the in­cu­ba­tor for six months to see if I like it. I ac­cepted, and six months later I switched to a full­time po­si­tion. He gave me this in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity to de­velop the in­cu­ba­tor over the sub­se­quent years. Af­ter the merge in 2012, I was for­tu­nate to be able to con­tinue the de­vel­op­ment. I think that with­out that in­ter­view dur­ing my mas­ter the­sis I would prob­a­bly be sit­ting some­where else to­day! But don't ask me where.

WHEN WAS THAT?

My first work­ing day was on Oc­to­ber 28, 2001, over 16 years ago!

SO YOU SAW QUITE A LOT OF EVO­LU­TION IN THE ECOSYS­TEM. HOW WAS IT BACK THEN?

Very dif­fer­ent! The whole en­vi­ron­ment was way less dy­namic. Technoport, founded in 1998, was the first in­cu­ba­tor es­tab­lished. We still had ev­ery­thing to prove and had to show that such an or­ga­ni­za­tion could be ben­e­fi­cial to the whole in­no­va­tion sys­tem, in the mid and long term. Back then we had less ap­pli­ca­tions, very few res­i­dent en­trepreneurs and far less in­ter­est in star­tups, in­no­va­tion and in­cu­ba­tors from all stake­hold­ers.

TO­DAY, WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT LUX­EM­BOURG BE­ING, OR AIM­ING TO BE­COME, A STARTUP NA­TION. WHAT'S YOUR OPIN­ION ON THIS?

To be­come a startup na­tion you need an ef­fi­cient na­tional in­no­va­tion sys­tem. You need more than good pub­lic re­search, cor­po­rates that are sup­port­ing in­no­va­tion and startup de­vel­op­ment, en­trepreneurs and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment sup­port schemes. To­day, more than ever, I think that the sys­tem is highly in­ter­twined with other di­men­sions too. Ev­ery city, re­gion or coun­try wants to be the most at­trac­tive place for star­tups and in­no­va­tion. So it is a mat­ter of what the sys­tem has to of­fer com­pared to oth­ers. For­eign en­trepreneurs look at many as­pects of a lo­ca­tion. We get more and more ques­tions about the so­cial en­vi­ron­ment, hous­ing, mo­bil­ity, the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem or the cost of liv­ing. In gen­eral, I think that Lux­em­bourg has some great advantages to put for­ward, but the chal­lenge for a small coun­try is be­ing able to con­tin­u­ously grasp and adapt the en­tire sys­tem.

YOU SAID THAT THE ECOSYS­TEM HAS CHANGED A LOT. CAN YOU ELAB­O­RATE ON THAT?

For me, the piv­otal year was 2012. In par­al­lel to the cre­ation of the new Technoport, ini­tia­tives like co-work­ing spa­ces, cor­po­rate in­cu­ba­tors and sup­port pro­grams were be­ing es­tab­lished to in­vig­o­rate the en­tre­pre­neur­ial ecosys­tem. Since then, year af­ter year, there has been an in­crease in terms of startup of­fer­ings. To­day in Lux­em­bourg, you prob­a­bly have over half-a-dozen in­cu­ba­tors and over a dozen new sup­port pro­grams and play­ers. This evo­lu­tion is not only com­ing from the pub­lic sec­tor but also from the pri­vate sec­tor – ser­vice providers, con­sul­tants and cor­po­rates. There has clearly been a change in mind­set that is now mak­ing its way into schools in the form of new in­no­va­tive prac­tices re­volv­ing around mak­erspaces, dig­i­tal skills de­vel­op­ment and en­trepreneur­ship.

HOW DID TECHNOPORT CON­TRIBUTE AND ADAPT DUR­ING THAT PE­RIOD?

From 2012 on, we saw a con­sid­er­able in­crease in ap­pli­ca­tions, projects, star­tups and ac­tiv­i­ties. We had to in­no­vate our sup­port ser­vices to sat­isfy the en­tre­pre­neur­ial re­quests we were get­ting. These be­came more and more spe­cific as the ecosys­tem quickly evolved.

We started to or­ga­nize the first-ever hackathons in Lux­em­bourg with Neopixl, a startup we were host­ing at that time, and the Startup Week­end with in­di­vid­u­als from the com­mu­nity. This heav­ily con­trib­uted to fos­ter­ing the ecosys­tem. To­day, we or­ga­nize, in co­op­er­a­tion with other or­ga­ni­za­tions, or host an av­er­age of five hackathons per year. These are pub­lic or in­ter­nal cor­po­rate hackathons.

In Jan­uary 2013, we de­cided to launch our dig­i­tal man­u­fac­tur­ing lab­o­ra­tory (Fablab) to sup­port rapid pro­to­typ­ing. We ex­panded it in 2016 with ad­di­tional fab­ri­ca­tion tools. We de­vel­oped new ser­vices like the Dig­i­tal Ex­pe­ri­ence Stu­dio, which aims to val­i­date in­no­va­tive cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ences and their re­lated busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. Both ac­tiv­i­ties al­lowed us to build syn­er­gies in sec­tors re­lated to dig­i­tal con­tent cre­ation, like mu­sic, video games and dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion.

To­day, we are an in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized or­ga­ni­za­tion thanks to our op­er­at­ing model, our ca­pac­ity to in­no­vate and sup­port from a range of cor­po­rate part­ner­ships. We are also a mem­ber of sev­eral Euro­pean and in­ter­na­tional net­works of in­cu­ba­tors and in­no­va­tion cen­ters to keep us en­gaged with our peers.

LET'S TALK A LIT­TLE BIT ABOUT THE STARTUP JOUR­NEY. WHAT IS A STARTUP TO YOU?

You can find many def­i­ni­tions of a startup – just like you can find sev­eral def­i­ni­tions of an in­cu­ba­tor. For us at Technoport, a startup usu­ally has sev­eral com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tics:

EN­COM­PASSES A TECH­NO­LOG­I­CAL DI­MEN­SION

OF­FERS SOME­THING NEW THAT IS NOT YET WIDELY ADOPTED BY THE TAR­GET MAR­KET

RE­QUIRES SUP­PORT TO START, EI­THER FI­NAN­CIAL OR IN TERMS OF BUSI­NESS DE­VEL­OP­MENT

NEEDS TO GO IN­TER­NA­TIONAL FAST (ONE OF THE PARTICULARITIES OF BE­ING IN A SMALL COUN­TRY)

AIMS TO SCALE QUICKLY

All of these char­ac­ter­is­tics could, of course, be chal­lenged. I per­son­ally think that en­trepreneur­ship is driven by pas­sion. Some peo­ple might pre­fer to scale slowly or not beyond a cer­tain size. We've seen that in the past and those com­pa­nies were def­i­nitely no less in­ter­est­ing or in­no­va­tive than oth­ers. Small can still be smart. What mat­ters is that they cre­ate value for their clients.

WHAT ARE THE KEY IN­GRE­DI­ENTS FOR A STARTUP TO BE­COME A SCALE-UP?

I be­lieve that there are dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents: the team, the vi­sion and the ex­e­cu­tion. Those with a good team and a bold vi­sion were able to ex­e­cute in a way that al­ready took into ac­count plans for scaling up. Of course, it is eas­ier to scale if you tackle a prob­lem that ad­dresses a big mar­ket, al­le­vi­at­ing a real pain rather than just be­ing a “nice to have.” En­trepreneurs with bold vi­sions usu­ally want to have a ma­jor im­pact. But you also need a sound cash-flow - a cru­cial vari­able that is of­ten for­got­ten.

HOW CAN YOU SUP­PORT SCALE-UPS?

The main value we bring to scale-ups is through our cor­po­rate part­ner­ships. There are dif­fer­ent types of mod­els.

In the in­dus­trial field, we have a close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Paul Wurth's in­cu­ba­tor In­cub that be­gan two years ago. The com­pany is a lead­ing global player in the de­sign and sup­ply of tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions for the pri­mary stage of in­te­grated steel­mak­ing. They have de­fined 10 pil­lars that guide how the group iden­ti­fies, se­lects and col­lab­o­rates with star­tups. These pil­lars in­clude top­ics like in­dus­try 4.0, clean-en­ergy tech­nol­ogy and min­ing and re­source man­age­ment. They can of­fer great sup­port in de­vel­op­ing so­lu­tions or im­ple­ment­ing proof-of-con­cepts, which could then be ex­ported glob­ally through­out the group.

The SATLAS pro­gram, run by SES, rep­re­sents a more sec­tor-spe­cific col­lab­o­ra­tion. The aim here is to sup­port ap­pli­cants with in­no­va­tive ideas in the field of satel­lite-based ser­vices, with or with­out prior ex­pe­ri­ence in space tech­nol­ogy. The goal is to de­velop, pro­to­type, build up and/or im­prove their prod­ucts and busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions in Europe, the Mid­dle East and Sub-sa­ha­ran West Africa. We part­nered with SES Tech­com Ser­vices to sup­port these en­trepreneurs for fu­ture growth and ex­pan­sion.

Fi­nally, we have launched a joint in­no­va­tion cen­ter with Voda­fone Pro­cure­ment called To­mor­row Street to sup­port the glob­al­iza­tion of in­no­va­tive star­tups with im­pres­sive track records. This pro­gram com­ple­ments Technoport's fo­cus by aid­ing more ma­ture star­tups.

If in­cu­ba­tors like ours join forces with large cor­po­ra­tions, we can make the sys­tem more ef­fi­cient and more ap­peal­ing to en­trepreneurs. It is im­por­tant for us to un­der­stand what chal­lenges these cor­po­ra­tions face in or­der to pro­pose the best match for both them and the star­tups.

WHAT ARE YOUR BEST MEM­O­RIES FROM YOUR TIME WITH TECHNOPORT?

The best mem­o­ries are cer­tainly those re­lated to the dif­fer­ent jour­neys of the en­trepreneurs be­hind our suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies – to see how they have evolved over the years and how they were able to grow their com­pa­nies de­spite many chal­lenges. Know­ing that we have con­trib­uted, even just a lit­tle, to their suc­cess is ex­tremely re­ward­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Belgium

© PressReader. All rights reserved.