Learning From the Best: Alps-Adriatic Study Visits

Monday, January 1, 0001
Partners of the Start:up Alpe-Adria project: Lakeside Science & Technology Park, KWF - Kärntner Wirtschaftsförderungs Fonds, Technology Park Ljubljana and Venture factory, Business Incubator of University of Maribor went on two interesting study visits this year, one in the Netherlands and Germany and the other in Sweden and Denmark. Our goal was to learn from more developed startup ecosystems and bring back home new ideas that will help startups in the Alps-Adriatic region, as well as to build joint programs and collaborations for startups in the Alps-Adriatic region.
Are you curious about what we've learned? We share the experience and knowledge we gained on the two study visits.

Study visit Netherlands/Germany (28 January to 1 February 2019)

The study visit of the cross-border startup ecosystem Eindhoven/Aachen started with a visit to High Tech Campus Eindhoven with presentations of various project and practices such as EIT Digital, DSP Valley and Brainport Development. High Tech Campus is a place where companies, institutes and 12,000 researchers, developers and entrepreneurs are working on developing future technologies and products. It helps accelerate innovations and turns them into business by offering easy access to high-tech facilities, support and international networks. They contribute a lot to the region, as High Tech Campus's companies are responsible for nearly 40% of all patent applications in the Netherlands. According to their experience, the most important thing is how the knowledge is used. A lot of innovations happen outside the lab when people meet each other and talk to each other.

EIT Digital is a leading European digital innovation and entrepreneurial education organization, driving Europe’s digital transformation and giving main focus to their members and whatever they do they do: industry (SMEs), research companies, universities. Everything they do is cross-border oriented and they focus on connecting ecosystems. EIT Digital helps business and entrepreneurs by providing them with technology, talent, and growth support through EIT Digital academy and EIT Digital Accelerator. Their focus is not to build small startups, but large European industry players by providing support to European tech startups and scaleups that will spread to international markets. Companies can join anytime during the year. They support them for at least for 2 years as well as help them raise funds and obtain investors.


Project partners also met with representatives of DSP Valley, an independent cluster in smart electronic systems and embedded technology solutions. It is one of the top clusters in Europe in the area of smart electronic solutions, with more than 100 members: universities, research institutes and companies (startups, SMEs and larger international companies). DSP Valley offers its members a networking platform that allows them to explore each other’s expertise and that stimulates innovation by exploiting complementarities. It provides an interesting environment where startups can grow and scale up. It stimulates entrepreneurship and open innovation by encouraging companies and member organizations to work together. For example, they challenge large companies to open their doors to tell what they are looking for, what kind of technologies could help them to bring forward their innovation. In addition, they focus on matchmaking.

On the second day project partners were in the TU/e Eindhoven Innovation Lab, learning about how the University of Eindhoven stimulates entrepreneurship and supports startups. A very interesting topic was the unique form of collaboration in which research groups from TU/e work very closely with an industrial partner to research societally relevant technologies. Through this unique form, the University of Eindhoven stimulates entrepreneurship and supports startups.
Furthermore, the University is innovative in another way: it is an economic entity, company. They are not just educating but they are transforming to a fourth-generation university, covering education, research, valorisation and connection to society. They create and support startups and spin-offs, through their employees, and additionally, they encourage students to work on new ideas and to create startups. This ecosystem is fully focused on collaboration on all kind of levels.

On the third day of the study visit, the project partners moved on to Aachen, Germany, where they visited Städteregion Aachen to learn about the broader region and the city of Aachen, the center of the region. It is a very innovative city with very good research competences, boasting with the biggest technical university in Germany, the University of Applied Sciences in Aachen and Research center in Jülich. More than 60.000 students give the city innovation potential. This contributes to an excellent knowledge and technology potential that can hardly be found elsewhere. Aachen offers the ideal ground for developments in future technological core fields. How did they succeed in coming so far? The initiative originated with the universities. Universities work very closely with companies, and they organized themselves in 16 clusters. One of the most important clusters in Aachen is the DigitalHUB in Digital Church. Additionally, as a region, one of the 3 main focuses is economical promotion - to provide an appropriate environment for innovations, research, entrepreneurship, to promote regional production and technology transfer.

Alpe-Adria project partners further embarked on a digital pilgrimage in the Digital Church. There, they learned about the activities and programs of the digitalHUB Aachen, TGZ (Transfer- & Gru¨nderzentrum) and took a guided tour of the Church. Digital Church is an innovative digital ecosystem – a digitization center and meeting point of the digital community. The digitalHUB is the main tenant of the building and acts like a center, bringing together digital users from the industry and economy, startups and IT as well as region and science in one place. It offers a place and infrastructure to work, to meet, to collaborate and share knowledge, but also to further develop the region’s digitalization. It is also a place for events such as Demo Days, where incubators are pitching, digital conferences, workshops in the field of digitalization, and more. Their members are mostly startups. The digitalHUB offers concrete help with digitalization and development of digital business models.
Additionally, they have an interesting Matching service in order to match startups to technology enterprises industry. They need to find out what the industry needs and then they find the appropriate startups for them in order to build new opportunities.
On the other hand, TGZ - Transfer- & Gründerzentrum of RWTH Aachen provides support for startups founded by the University’s students, graduates and researchers. They provide comprehensive services for young entrepreneurs, advice on starting and funding a business, and support after founding a startup. Additionally, they also provide support by creating ideas for those who still don't have a business idea and consulting support to startups by providing knowledge from experience. The close collaboration between the institutions resulted in several entrepreneurial initiatives at RWTH Aachen.

Project partners finished the day with a visit to the Campus of the RWTH Aachen, one of the largest research environments in Europe with a unique symbiosis of science and economics, also including many universities with altogether 45.000 students.
It is fascinating how successful and big of an environment it is, covering 800.000 m2 with 15 centers working in the Campus and with huge interest coming from companies that would like to join these centers. How can companies join? By becoming a member and paying for a membership. Every center is a private entity and not part of the university. Here, experts work on researching on special topics, science and industry work hand in hand. Interdisciplinary teams of scientists work closely with industry. The involved companies share resources with university institutes, utilize synergy effects, exchange knowledge directly on site and collaborate in innovations. At Campus they offer also coaching and mentoring. Their goal is to increase the entrepreneurial mindset. The study visit of the Netherlands and Germany was concluded with a trip to IHK Aachen and TPH Herzogenrath.

Study visit Sweden/Denmark (4 to 8 March 2019)

The Scandinavian Study Visit started in Denmark where partners of the Start:up Alpe-Adria project visited the startup accelerator Accelerace. What did they learn from Europe’s n.1 seed accelerator? They search for startups globally. Once the accelerator finds their startups, they give them between 5 and 8 months sometimes less, sometimes more. Sometimes they even tell them to take a break and come back! Their main goal is to make sure that everything they’ve built is based on hypothesis-driven innovation, an approach from lean canvas that Accelerace preaches. By building assumption-hypothesis tests, they observe the results until finally, the startup has a scalable business model that can be implemented on the market.
The project partners also visited Medicon Valley Alliance and Symbion Science Park, which is one of the biggest startup communities. The larger vision of the park is to build a platform where people meet. They’re bringing people together: the right people, at the right time, so they can help each other with whatever their needs are. That can be anything, from jobs and positions to investment opportunities, money, and knowledge. They started out as a science park, more than 30 years ago, with the same goal as partners of Start:up Alpe-Adria project: they wanted to do more for entrepreneurship in the region, create more startups. And they succeeded! Now, Symbion is less of a science park and more of a startup community, spanning several sites, which connect startups from the entire region of Greater Copenhagen, which includes both Danish and Swedish municipalities.

On the second day, the Alpe-Adria had a packed schedule as well. They visited the Experimentarium and Founders House, took a stroll to the Tietgen Residence Hall and checked out the IT University of Copenhagen, Freistadt Christiana, Rainmaking Loft and Coworking Copenhagen.

The third day started with a visit to VentureLab, a startup hub for students of Lund University, Sweden. Just in 2017, 42 startups were part of this platform, generating millions of euros in revenue and creating 192 jobs! But who are they meant for? Simply, VentureLab is meant for students. When students have ideas that they want to realize, when they want to get started, this is the place for them. Here, they have access to networks, coaches and business advisers. They join a programme and get complete support, from learning about theory (like business model canvas) to regularly meeting with experienced advisors who can help them. All students are welcome, no matter their age, degree level, or field of study.
Another stop in Sweden was Medicon Village, a life science research park in Lund, which now spans 120000 m2, 140 companies, and 1800 people. They believe that in order to be successful, you need to have people with different competences and skills. Their mission is to create an environment where wisdom, innovation, and entrepreneurship work together, creating value for people’s health and well-being. Medicon Village now mixes business, academia, and the public sector. After a lot of hard work, Medicon Village was opened in 2012, showing that amazing things can happen when scientists and entrepreneurs collaborate.

Project partners also visited Innovation Skåne, Ideon Innovation and Ideon Open, the part of Ideon Science Park dedicated to large established companies and organizations that wish to add entrepreneurial thinking to their innovation. There are three main parts, all aiming to help big organizations by introducing the thinking and tools that startups use. Ideon Open thus consists of:

1. Assignments: They act as management consultants, working for a large organization for as little time as a month and for as long as a year and a half.
2. Win: This is the network that does matchmaking between large organizations and startups as well as academia.
3. Beyond: This is a corporate accelerator. Big clients put their most disruptive teams into Beyond for a year, and here they get mentoring, coaching, and pitch training.

Further, Ideon Innovation offers full support to startups - experienced business coaches and partners, help in reaching an international market, place in their office and taking part in their network. Additionally, they have the initiative The Yes Way, which is their ground-breaking initiative for creating new platforms for ideas, networks and businesses of women and non-binary. Their project builds on the fact that the future needs new ways of doing things and that the current structures do not support variety. The time has come to make a difference. And furthermore, they have a new focus, following global goals.
It was very interesting to learn about Ideon Science Park, a privately-owned science park working closely with the university, which has 15 buildings, 407 companies and 9.500 people working there. They shared some interesting topics with us:
  • They have an “all doors are open” policy so that the flow of information is good, they can help each other and use each other’s networks.
  • They work a lot with open innovation.
  • They have a soft learning program for those who would like to try the Swedish market.
  • They are managing a challenge of attracting the right people to the companies using the program “Match it” and inviting foreigners with academic background for a 22-week trial period to work as interns for companies. Companies define what kind of profile they are looking for and, in this program, they match right people for the right company. They are also trying to encourage people who are doing a Master degree by activating companies and matching people with companies.
  • They have digital platform for companies who would like to try their business ideas and to get feedback.
Both study visits brought a lot of new knowledge and ideas to implement at home in the Alps-Adriatic region. There is a lot of work ahead of us and we are ready!