The EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final event is a pre-accelerator programme that helps European innovators and entrepreneurs build a viable business model around their innovative idea. We got an inside look at the programme from Dora Marosvolgyi, the woman leading the EIT Community’s Strategic Innovation Projects.
While Europe’s startup ecosystem is thriving as a whole, and in many ways relies on a spirit of cooperation across borders. That being said, there are undeniable differences from region to region in how startups and innovation develop and flourish. The EIT Jumpstarter aims to support entrepreneurs shaping the tech of the future.
The EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final will take place in Krakow on November 29th. The top 6 start-ups in each category (healthcare, agri-food, raw materials, energy, urban mobility, manufacturing and sustainable living) will compete for the first prize of €10,000. Participation is free of charge, and the Organisers are covering the travel and accommodation expenses. EU-Startups is a Media Partner of the event.
Dora Marosvolgyi shared her insights into the programme as well as how it can help develop innovation and foster entrepreneurial spirit right across Europe.
The European early-stage startup scene is different from region to region. Both Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Western Balkans, are the ones that in terms of creating startups perhaps need more encouragement to reach the market. Why do you think this is the case?
One of the main points I usually like to raise is a mindset change. In Central and Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans the majority of the researchers don’t believe that there’s anything else than an academic path. The prestige of being a researcher collecting publications, and being part of a scientific community is rewarding and comfortable enough for them.
The mindset change includes overcoming the fear of failure, accepting that it can happen, and avoiding repeating mistakes once done. It requires a lot of courage from the researchers. And from what I have noted, in Western Europe or Israel, the entrepreneur mindset is instilled in researchers and can be observed more often.
Researchers from our region don’t see the startup path or a startup as a reliable alternative that would provide them with fulfillment. They also find it threatening that it’s uncertain how it will go, so their comfort zone is within the university and the lab, where they don’t have to talk to customers. The entrepreneurial path is not for everyone and this is completely fine. However, if they want their product, idea or service to be on the market, they need to find someone who will professionally help them —and we’re here to make it happen.
Would you say it’s culturally determined?
If we take a look at counrties, which have a booming start-up ecosystem, I know that the educational system encourages people to be innovative, to work on inspiring projects, to collaborate with other innovators, and to step out of their comfort zone. If we consider the educational system in my home country, Hungary, it shows a different picture: you learn the materials and when the moment comes, you use the theoretical knowledge. It doesn’t really encourage creativity and innovativeness and I believe it’s a crucial reason the researchers are afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone and changing their mindset.
And so the idea of EIT Jumpstarter was born to push those people and their ideas onto the market?
Exactly. And that is why we brought a lot of one-on-one mentoring into the program. Teams work in small learning groups – developing their ideas, exchanging knowledge and experience with other researchers. There are also expert mentoring sessions, where they meet with specialists from the field, either business experts, intellectual property experts or industry experts. The mentors are a pair of shoulders to lean on, not just a talking face in a Zoom room.
It also slightly pushes them out of their comfort zone and simulates going out and talking to customers. And that’s eye-opening in many cases.
You say talking to customers, but do you also prepare the innovators to talk to investors?
We do, but we are aware that they are not yet investment-ready when they graduate from our program. Most of them are just freshly creating their startup and need more support before private investors find them interesting. So usually we aim to support their growth until they are ready for private investors.
EIT Jumpstarter is already five years old. Any success stories from those years?
A good example is a Portuguese team, the founders of ILoF, that participated in EIT Jumpstarter, established their company and won the program in 2019. Back then – before covid19 – I had a chance to meet the team and be their mentor during the boot camp and I remember how we shaped their very first business model. They actually still use parts of that pitch we created together, which, for me, is very rewarding.
During the same year, they also participated in another program, the EIT Health Wild Card. There they connected to the EIT Health community and won €2 mln. Step by step they’ve been growing, and now they have more than 20 employees and just received a big investment of €4.89 million.
That’s impressive! Is it common for you to do some follow-ups with Jumpstarter’s participants?
This is our aim–we follow up on those who came out of the local joint training, the second phase of the programme. They are the most committed, who finished the program and typically had a chance to pitch at the EIT Jumpstarter Grand Final. However, we had cases where the team that won first place separated and the ones who won second place are still in business, like Ligence, who recently received considerable investments from the European Innovation Council.
It is also important to note not all the ideas will reach the market and this is also an outcome that we need to accept. That’s part of the entrepreneurial mindset that sometimes failure happens but if the innovators learn from the failure, next time their idea will more likely to succeed.
Talking about success, have you observed any trends within the sectors you work with?
We receive many ideas involving drone techniques across different thematic fields. Starting from analyzing and observing the mines to deploying drones in warehouses or using them to map and analyze electrical cables. There was also one idea for the food industry, where drones were used to spot diseases in farm animals by measuring their body temperature. Summing up, a similar technology used for different sectors.
How do you see the future of the EIT Jumpstarter?
We would like to use the momentum of growth and strengthen the New European Bauhaus category that we introduced two years ago. Here we work with projects that break down boundaries between science and technology, art, culture, and social inclusion and want to translate the European Green Deal principles into our living spaces.
But we will also adjust the program and create a stand-alone category by EIT Digital, to work with digital solutions within fintech, edutech, and cybersecurity, among others. We will also have a new section dedicated to Ukrainian idea holders focusing on ideas on how to rebuild the country in a technology-savvy way after the war. We would like to help them by collecting and supporting innovative ideas and solutions. Our vision is that EIT Jumpstarter becomes the safe launching platform for deep tech start-ups from Emerging Europe.