The incubator located in Esch-sur-Alzette is 20 years old and will be celebrating its numerous successes in June. Its CEO, Diego De Biasio, tells us more about the creation of Technoport, while giving us more information on the upcoming event, focusing once again on innovation, startups and incubation.
When did it all start exactly?
The idea of creating an incubator in Luxembourg goes back to the early 1990’s. Dr. Claude Wehenkel, former CEO of the Public Research Centre Henri Tudor (today part of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology), promoted it first. Like with all projects, perseverance and some external factors finally led to the creation and launch of Technoport in June 1998. It is hard to imagine what the ecosystem would look like today without his contribution but I’m quite sure I would probably not give this interview right now!
Since then Technoport has constantly grown. How would you define yourself today?
I think we succeeded in developing the whole organisation in a modern and dynamic version of a technology-oriented business incubator. We had to reinvent ourselves over the years. First of all in terms of corporate governance. Since 2012, we have been run like a private company and this pushed us to explore different business models and new areas of developments.
Incubation is of course still our core business but on top of startups we can today support foreign entities who want to establish research and development activities in Luxembourg, creating interesting synergies with newly established companies. Our coworking space has developed itself in a well-known event space. We organised or hosted 51 events and 9 hackathons last year, which contributes a lot to the overall ecosystem development. In 2013, we launched our FabLab, a digital fabrication laboratory, which today is one of the most well-equipped prototyping platforms in the Greater Region.
Then, we tested, validated, un-validated a wide range of services over the years. Since 2013, we have seen that the overall local scene is getting more and more mature and this allowed us to establish great new partnerships with corporations or other institutions, all interested in supporting innovation and startups.
What do you seek in such partnerships?
Our ultimate goal is to improve the overall ecosystem. They give us access to some technical and market expertise we do not have in our team. We can support entrepreneurs as well as our partners much more efficiently in scouting more internationally. This means helping foreign startups connect with a local environment that can become an international launchpad for them. Two great examples are the links we built with Paul Wurth and its InCub, which is fostering the industrial technologies (#InduTech) community in Luxembourg, and more recently Tomorrow Street, the joint-venture we launched with Vodafone. It is a late-stage accelerator that focusses on supporting more mature startups in their globalization process. Such strong win-win models bring extremely important expertise to the local ecosystem of Luxembourg.
You decided to host the annual congress of EBN in Luxembourg to celebrate your 20th anniversary. Can you tell us more?
We wanted to promote Luxembourg and show to this community of international experts in incubation/acceleration/innovation how dynamic the local ecosystem has become over the last years. Our goal is to mix them with our partners (companies, incubators or startups) and do some nation branding too.
What’s the rationale behind the three topics you chose for the congress?
The three topics are Growth, Space and Industry 4.0. This choice was made together with EBN and fits quite well some of our pillars. The growth of startups is a recurring topic for all incubators/accelerators. How can we support our companies to scale during or after the incubation phase? What other models exist out there? Industry 4.0 and Space are two segments that are becoming more and more important for us, covering 26.2% of the total applications we received in 2017. Out of the 16 new companies that we accepted in our incubator last year, 50% were from these two verticals, with five related to the space sector. These are numbers we would not have imagined some years ago. As an incubation structure you need to constantly adapt to these evolutions.