Start for Future- New Deal of Innovation for Europe
Published: 16th May 2023
Start for Future is a joint initiative of two EIT HEI projects and other international programs of core consortium partners. Up to date, it includes the following projects: EUACCEL, TANDEM +, eBridge: Munich B2B Co-Creation hub, EUFORIA, AGORA, and entreTime.
The vision behind Start For Future is to create a sustainable international Alliance of ecosystems governed by principles of systemic innovation where universities, incubators, politics, civil society, startups, and governmental organizations actively co-create on delivering socio-economic and environmental impact in Europe.
Our core mission is to actively enable all members in creating a positive impact by becoming more entrepreneurial and innovative through active regional innovation activities and connecting them internationally under the auspices of the New Deal of Innovation in Europe.
Toward the core mission, SFF has developed 4 core pillars of intervention:
- Start For Future Academy provides education programs, new concepts, and insights for universities and their academic and non-academic staff with a two-fold objective: i) building a knowledge community that focuses on increasing entrepreneurial and innovation competencies, fostering co-creation approaches, entrepreneurial research, and building entrepreneurial ecosystems ii) supporting on how best to utilize the resources and formats in Start For Future incubation program to bring values and knowledge to their core target groups: students and startups.
- Open Incubation Programme A cross-university, three-stage program (LEARN, MATCH & START, DEVELOP & COCREATE) for talents and startups which is taking their ideas from conception to venture. The open program aims at 1. driving the project ideas at international, domain-specific cross-university courses towards impact creation 2. taking the most promising ideas and teams towards startup concepts creation, and 3. bringing the well-rounded business concepts in incubators across partner networks and supporting co-creation with industry, GOs, etc.
- The Open incubator aims to exploit synergies between the incubators of the SFF Alliance partners by promoting joint activities, joint mentoring of start-ups, and active exchange between start-ups and mentors. Besides the active virtual co-supervision, it includes free mobility and the exchange of startups and incubator consultants between ecosystems. The startups in exchange have full access to services and facilities as well as the whole SFF assets and resources. A similar approach is taken for incubator consultants, where they can visit a partner incubator and work with its regional startups.
- Start For Future Regional Innovation Valleys; this program helps the SFF partners to initiate, activate and further develop their existing ecosystem initiative with a deep tech focus and transform them into more sustainable innovations, including the legal and financial framework. The program provides a template on how to engage your ecosystem stakeholders and connect them also with hubs/valleys across Europe, Finally, the program offers a digital outlet for communication within the hub and between hubs on Start For Future community platform. The connected SFF Regional Innovation Valleys are gathering the most entrepreneurial and innovative actors in Europe coming from EU Commission, governmental regional and national organizations, universities, companies, and startups.The SFF program was initiated in 2021, the end of the year through a joint consensus of consortium partners ( across all projects) to address the gap between the Academy and Business Creation as well as interconnection to entrepreneurial and innovation activities in their ecosystems. SFF was envisaged as a program that can leverage the existing activities of the HEIs and ecosystems and make easier paths to co-creation between core innovation actors ( e.g. that startups from Greece can have access to market knowledge in Germany and first customers) In fast-paced manner the consortium organized several strategic meetings through which:
- Consortiums came together and developed a joint vision and organized transformation process across several working groups: A) Governance and Management b) Train the Trainers and Addressing Academic and Non-Academic Staff c) Education of Students D) Startup Creation and incubation E) micro-credentials and processes towards F) Business Development and Sustainability G) Visibility and Platforms H ) Research I) Evaluation and Assessment J) Ecosystem work
- Out of the work from working groups came several programs as a consolidation of project activities which are reflected in 4 pillars.
- Each pillar has a driver and several contributors and is self-organized in the process
- In 2022 towards scaling and decreasing the administrative process, efforts have been made by Group A, F, and G towards platform use and development of the matching algorithm, development of a statute for the European Cooperative Society as a transformation process of a non-formal network to a formal entity and Business Model which can address different innovation actors in Europe to drive the initiative further.
- Toward the exit from Cohort 1 project duration, the SFF consortium is planning the registration of the entity and the allocation of personal resources and a business team towards the acquisition of new partners.
- Day-to-day processes are in the current constellation reported and monitored on a bi-weekly basis in joint meetings.
As one of the important learnings was that in order for such initiatives to become possible, it is important to derive a joint vision and our success story was that we have been organized as a startup – ready to iterate very fast and validate our approaches through small success stories before bringing the full product to the market. The official launch of SFF was done at SFF Summit in November 2022 in Munich with EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel.
The SFF program addresses the needs of regional ecosystems and universities as the core drivers of innovation processes. It does so by providing a framework and a program to foster entrepreneurial mindset and action and to bring innovative ideas to life and incubate them across EU valleys where there are most opportunities for success. As a consequence of the process, new pilots in form of products/services/business models are made across borders.
Students and student teams are the core target group of the program, and beyond the two targets, the SFF program addresses early-stage startups and engages experts and academic and non-academic staff.
Key stakeholders of the program are universities, industry, incubators, cities, and entrepreneurial ecosystems/valleys.
Key results from the Start for Future (SFF) program are:
- Open university and incubator framework with 4 international innovation programs: SFF Academy, SFF Open Incubation Program, SFF Open Incubator, and SFF Regional Innovation Valleys.
- SFF Community platform – a matching and co-creation community platform addressing HEIs, incubators, ecosystems, talents, and startups.
- Tested and validated approach to student entrepreneurship and startup development through SFF Open Incubation Program which can take young entrepreneurial ideas and through 11 months process develops startups ready for first co-creation with industry, GOs, and other innovation actors.
Key success factors / How to replicate / Sustainability mechanism
One of the key reasons why the initiative was/is successful lies within the following factors:
- All the partners have the strategic commitment of their top management to advance entrepreneurial activities
- Consortium has relied on utilizing and connecting existing successful formats and further developing them, rather than starting fully from ground zero.
- We have adopted an entrepreneurial approach: dynamic governance and approach to iteration. We have been conducting evaluations after each activity and iterating based on resource allocation, the satisfaction of participants, and the policies in place.
- Having a clear vision was an important element to which we could commit. Realization that alone we will not accomplish as big an impact as done together made it possible for many to adopt this vision in practice.
- Partners have involved all necessary entrepreneurial structures in the program and were willing to allocate HR on top of those budgeted.
Toward scalability and sustainability, we have adopted two approaches:
1.) We wish to remain open to admitting new universities and in the future, this will be done via Open Call for new HEIs and partners to join SFF SCE – European Cooperative Society. In 2022, the new partners were joining the initiative via recommendation.
2.) The formalization and sustainability aspect entails a business model and defines different levels of sponsorship and industry collaboration in the program, as well as the new EU program to which the consortium intends to apply in 2023 and years to come.
For consortia that would like to implement similar practices, we highly recommend re-assessing the existing programs and initiatives in implementation that have already
had successes and trying to create meaningful, strategic, and structured synergies rather than trying and developing innovation formats from ground zero. Adaptation of successful stories will create impact faster and attract others to join.
Other important lessons:
Another important factor is to have a structured -yet dynamic governance in place. This as a result means decreasing administrative tasks and increasing the focus on content and iteration when needed. An important lesson was also adopting an approach and plan on how to utilize the available and institutionally budgeted resources: incubators, labs, coaches and experts, existing local and EU funding for startups etc. Relying on these resources in the program and integrating them from the very beginning, made it easier for SFF to scale on parties involved and create impact and added value for already existing structures. And lastly, towards scalability and ensuring administrative tasks are decreased, the SFF consortium developed a robust platform for exchange, matching, and operational tasks – www.startforfuture,eu. We see this as an important tool and device towards scalability and sustainability and most importantly ensuring that our core target groups and stakeholders have access to a European pool of opportunities, talents, and co-creation projects.