This is the first in a new series of articles that will focus on the activities and accomplishments of the LaunchBase programme, an incubation platform of the Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship (MC4E). Composed out of two specific programmes, LaunchBase covers a comprehensive approach to business development. The initial step is Base, a pre-incubation programme that supports ambitious students and alumni in making the first steps toward becoming entrepreneurs. The second stage is Launch, an incubator programme that guides Base alumni and other promising growth entrepreneurs through the initial stages of business growth. UM is offering those programmes to give you the opportunity to step in the footsteps of great entrepreneurs who enrich our world.
San Francisco, Tel Aviv and London: these are the cities that usually come to mind when you think of start-ups celebrated by the media as so-called potential new “unicorns,” or start-ups valued higher than $1 billion. Whether it is about new technological inventions or receiving first seed capital from venture capitalists or huge incubators, did you ever wonder how the ideas for these future companies comes to life, and who supports those entrepreneurs at their very first steps? Pre-incubators do, and Maastricht just got one as well.
The newly founded LaunchBase Incubation Programme is, by definition, not a pre-incubator, but a programme. Even so, the role it fulfils is the same. It is developed by the Maastricht Centre for Entrepreneurship (MC4E) in collaboration with the Province of Limburg, the Municipality of Maastricht and Maastricht University (UM).
There are plenty of incubators out there in Europe and in the US, but they developed selection criteria, which makes many entrepreneurs’ chances of getting support as likely as landing a board position with a bachelor’s degree and no work experience. Where do you go if you have a brand-new idea, but no network, no (tech-) knowledge and no background information about your potential market or customer segments?
LaunchBase, which recently moved into the new UM complex at the Tapijnkazerne, offers, on the first sight, working spaces, room for creativity and, according to a programme participant, “a lot of motivation to keep me going on my idea.”
This characterises only a minor part of the LaunchBase programme. If you join the programme, you will bring your idea to life and you will get your hands a bit dirty. You move from theory to practice, and benefit from the feedback of fellow participants, advice from internal and external experts, as well as knowledge.
LaunchBase is a two-step programme – “Base” and “Launch.” The “Base” programme is running at the moment, and the participants are now halfway through. A couple of the participants started with a good idea and others had only a vague notion of where the journey would take them when joining.
“You can join the Base programme even without an idea, if you have entrepreneurial spirit and motivation,” says Lydia Gommans, Project Manager of the Base programme. “[The programme] will give you guidance to foster your idea.”
The Base programme serves as a community, not a competitive environment. Around 35 participants from different backgrounds create an atmosphere in which ideas can grow, develop and be converted into an actual product or service. It serves as a common ground for early entrepreneurs who are still trying to shape an idea, while supporting more progressive entrepreneurs with network contacts and valuable workshops including topics as crowdfunding, pitching for investors and the life after the Base programme.
As a pre-incubating programme, it does not fund ideas financially (yet), but works on a pay-to-play basis. This means the incubating programme does not acquire a stake in the company but charges 295€ for students, 395€ for PhDs and 895€ for external participants. The time you spend at the facilities and the programme is up to you – how much motivation do you have to start your own business and find a great team?
At the moment, plenty of interesting entrepreneurial ideas are worked out in the Base programme, ranging from virtual reality in the medical sector to the “gamification” of travel services to a platform trying to integrate volunteer work on travels around the world.
From disruptive technology to niche market products, you can find nearly everything at the Base programme, somewhere between the stages of a sparkling idea and a developed prototype. Especially if you commit yourself, LaunchBase is very helpful for your entrepreneurial idea, but, according to one participant, “even if you have a busy week and just attend the workshops, you get a lot of compressed, valuable, information to bring your idea to life.”
Jonas Heller has been passionate about the entrepreneurship world since working in Berlin for Zalando, one of the fastest growing start-ups in Europe. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE) in 2012, and after 18 months in Berlin, he decided to follow an academic career and return to Maastricht for a Master’s degree in International Business, after which he hopes to pursue an academic career in the field of disruptive technologies. Still keeping abreast with all things entrepreneurial, Jonas writes and tweets frequently on the subject. You can follow him at Twitter.