Fit 4 Start, the road to success High standard coaching for a strengthened market and funding: the keys of Luxembourg's acceleration programme for start-ups

Since 2015, Luxembourg's acceleration programme, Fit 4 Start, managed by Luxinnovation, offers quality coaching for high potential start-ups. The concept is simple and has already proven its worth: advice from recognised experts in business accelerators, the opportunity of benefiting from funding of up to 150,000 euros, access to a collaborative workspace and networking opportunities within the Luxembourgish ecosystem.

The programme initially focused on the field of information and communication technologies (ICT), and broadened its scope in 2018 with the health technology sector, and again one year later, with start-ups in the space industry.

Following the December 2019 launch of the call for applications for the 10th edition of Fit 4 Start, we take stock with Stefan Berend, Head of Startup Acceleration at Luxinnovation.

The programme is four-fold: coaching, funding, workspace and networking. What is the strength of the Fit 4 Start programme, which makes it stand out from other similar acceleration programmes? ​

The strength of our programme lies in the way it combines group sessions with coaching that is personalised and tailored to each start-up. We pay particular attention to whom we select as coaches and jury members, who also act as coaches and facilitators. The level and complementarity of their expertise are essential.

Start-ups are appreciative to say the least. The selected entrepreneurs often come with a very specific idea of their product or service and they are confident they will succeed. Our coaches help them question themselves so they don't only have quality to offer, but above all a range that is in line with the market. What start-ups usually lack in is not usually technical skills, but high-growth business management.

What is the backdrop to the inclusion of start-ups of the space sector in the 10th edition of the programme? What are the business areas sought by Fit 4 Start in this sector?

Since the launch of the Space Resources initiative in 2017, Luxembourg clearly positioned itself to become an international key player in the space industry. The creation of the Luxembourg Space Agency one year later strengthened this objective and the idea to open a vertical structure devoted to this sector within the framework of Fit 4 Start quickly germinated.

The 9th edition of Fit 4 Start that started in autumn 2019 has welcomed the five first start-ups in the space sector. The objective was to attract projects using space-derived data with or without data from other sources, whether air-based, in situ or derived from social networks, with a view to creating value-added applications and services.

This year again, the 10th edition will select five start-ups related to the space industry, but this time we made the spectrum available to other sub-sectors. We are more specifically looking for projects using these applications: SatCom (telecommunications satellite), Earth Observation (earth observatory), Navigation, Space Resources, Space Security , Space Cybersecurity  and Science.

Fit 4 Start #10 revisited

Fit 4 Start celebrates its 10th edition with a revised format to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than ever, digital technologies are at the heart of the event with a 100% digital selection process. Nevertheless, the coaching sessions for the selected startups will remain 100% face-to-face to guarantee the quality of the interactions, while adapting the duration of the sessions, which are initially planned for January 2021.

The call for applications was a huge success, with a total of 476 startups from 60 countries applying. The list of startups selected by the jury was unveiled on 15th October 2020, when the overview of the first five years of the programme was presented. For this 10th edition, a total of 20 startups have been selected: ten in ICT, five in health technologies and five in the space sector.

The launch of the 10th edition is maybe an opportunity to assess the programme's success: would you be able to choose a success story?

The choice is a tough one as we have several alumnis - that's how we refer to former Fit 4 Start graduates - that are doing very well today. I have Salonkee in mind, a specialist in online appointment-making for hairdressers and beauticians. It managed to raise one million euros as a result of the programme and launched its services in Belgium and in Portugal.

Passbolt, the developer of a business password management solution is also a great success story. It now accounts for almost 100,000 users, including some large international groups. It also raised some funds after its passing through Fit 4 Start.

What is the future of the programme? Will new sectors be added to the next editions? Will the four pillars of the Fit 4 Start programme be strengthened?

The long-term objective is the same: contribute to Luxembourg's data economy strategy by supporting local start-ups and attracting high potential young people from all over the world within our ecosystem.

It is obvious that in such dynamic environments, the status quo is always re-assessed and fine-tuned. The more we help start-ups to build their products in order for them to respond to real needs, the closer we get them to their clients, the higher the probability of success and the stronger the positioning of the acceleration programme.