Good Practice

Discover, Incubate, and Accelerate Start-ups and SMEs (DIAS)

Supporting KIC's

Domain: Domain 3 – Contributing to developing innovations and businesses.

With this good practice, the INCORE consortium contributes with a dedicated package with the aim of helping Start-Ups and SMEs to grow by providing personalized training, mentoring, and advice. The training sessions included several steps such as: defining the vision, validating the business concept, assessing feasibility, evaluating marketing plans, investigating production development, planning business growth, and maturing the business. This support package also helped entrepreneurs design their strategic wallet, engage with suitable investment opportunities, and improve collaboration with other stakeholders.

Generic actions taken for each Start-Up and SME included evaluating the innovation ecosystem maturity, conducting a current state horizon scan, identifying and assessing the current state of the business ecosystem/model, and determining the desired future state for the business ecosystem/model.

Individualised actions taken for various Start-Ups and SMEs included: identifying the key value proposition from the user’s perspective, prioritizing focus on sales growth, creating tangible intellectual property protection, experimenting with franchising models and IP licensing for growth, and identifying and leveraging prominent influencers for visibility in the market. The actions also involved establishing the existing market dogma, creating a consortium for success, prioritizing orchestrator role activities, and identifying and inputting to thought leaders. Additionally, the actions involved the identification of key users, the determination of reasons for user interest, the identification of the key contribution of new knowledge, and the commoditization of the product for growth.

Key learning points included that (a) not all Start-Up and SME representatives had a clear vision / aspiration with corresponding plans to achieve this, (b) the facilitator of the workshops needed to have an intensive co-entrepreneurial attitude with appropriate experience, and (c) a conversational implementation of the method was superior to an analytical / scientific approach.


Start-Ups and SMEs are typically run by a single individual who often earns their income from another source and dedicates all remaining time to building the venture. 

Regarding the lack of time, the younger the start-up the more the entrepreneur will be accomplishing ALL important tasks for product development, marketing, sales, customer support, research etc. Due to the lack of funding all tasks will be completed at a lower than needed quality, while the time needed for developing trusted partners who collaborate in business building will suffer. 

While these problems could not be sustainably solved during the course of the (short) engagement it was possible to build awareness of the urgent need to partner, the importance of patience, the criticality of multiple income sources, and that the only chance for long term success was “letting go” in the sense of having others assuming responsibility for tasks currently performed by the entrepreneur. 

In most cases the entrepreneurs were the actual developers of solutions and by default less skilled / understanding of the needed activities in the other areas.

The most successful entrepreneurs were also those that focused on developing and selling their products as early as possible, versus spending huge amounts of time trying to solicit third party funding.

Finally, most entrepreneurs had no understanding  of what it meant to engage with funding organisations and / or deal with investors in the company.

The most poignant learning point for all was learning to accept that it takes time to build a business, “small can be beautiful”, and that revenue driven growth is usually preferable to third party growth acceleration.


Beneficiaries are the quadruple helix stakeholders of the innovation ecosystem, including public authorities, industry, academia and citizens, who need resilient and sustainable enterprises contributing to fulfilling their own specific needs.

Key outcomes

The INCORE consortium designed and implemented a joint support package to foster collaboration between HEIs and SMEs and provided customized business development assistance to Start-ups from EU Outermost Regions. The aim of the support package was to “Discover, Incubate, and Accelerate Start-ups and SMEs (DIAS)” through 1:1 training and mentoring sessions. This activity was carried out in three main steps: (1) identify suitable Start-ups / SMEs; (2) accelerate these Start-ups / SMEs; and (3) improve the quality of collaboration among the quadruple helix stakeholders. 

22 start-ups/SMEs from Madeira, the Azores, The Canary Islands and La Reunion benefitted from the support package. The selection of candidate start-ups/SMEs was based on targeted search and solicitation, direct recommendations of participating HEIs, and responses to marketing activities by HEIs and the EIT. This experience boosted the entrepreneurial culture of the HEIs and contributed to unlocked their potential to become leading engines of innovation entrepreneurial culture of the local innovation ecosystem, while placing the ORs at the heart of European action.

Key success factors / How to replicate / Sustainability mechanism

One of the key success factors was the joint collaboration of the whole consortium in this initiative. Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), coordinating institution in INCORE, already had experience with programs dedicated to supporting researchers, professors and students working on disruptive technologies that can be upscaled to the market. This experience was transferred and tailored by the HEI partners of the Outermost Regions through the support package described above, including workshops and mentoring sessions that helped building or revisiting  a robust business plan, expanding their professional network, searching for diversified funding sources, and other competencies that are required to run a successful and sustainable business.