What happens at startup incubator UtrechtInc?

From research or idea to a scalable business

In 2021, UtrechtInc was ranked in the top ten of the best university-linked startup incubators in the world, for the second time. Yet, not everyone who works or studies at Utrecht University knows that UtrechtInc exists, or what an incubator actually does. Startup incubation lead Stefan Braam explains it to us.

About this series

As university, we want to make our knowledge available to society and offer solutions, says Anton Pijpers, president of the Executive Board. Contributing to society can be done in many ways, facilitating the development of startups being one of them. We encourage our students and colleagues to be entrepreneurial: take initiative! Don't wait around for someone else to take action.

In this interview series, the Centre for Entrepreneurship introduces you to the people who can help take your idea further, or make that possible. In the left-hand column you will find the other articles in this series.

What is UtrechtInc?

Stefan Braam
Stefan Braam

UtrechtInc is the startup incubator of Utrecht University (UU) and UMC Utrecht. We were founded some twelve years ago as a result of valorisation policy. Valorisation is about bringing the accumulated knowledge from the knowledge institutions back to society. One way of doing this is to turn it into a company, a startup. UtrechtInc has done this about three hundred times in recent years.

Over the years, we have seen great examples of people who have managed to combine their academic career with entrepreneurship. So we actually see that it could go hand-in-hand.

Valorisation is about bringing the accumulated knowledge from the knowledge institutions back to society. One way of doing this is to turn it into a company, a startup.

What kind of startups are we talking about?

UtrechtInc focuses on scalable technology, like software, algorithms, market places, platforms, apps or medical software.

When is something scalable?

These are concepts of which you can sell the product or service without losing it yourself. Suppose I make a coffee cup in a factory and I sell it, then I have to make a new coffee cup to be able to sell it again. With an algorithm, for example to detect delirium in the brain of hospital patients, I can sell the algorithm or make it available, but then I still have it. So I can sell it to a second or third customer as well.

With that logic, the world is your market; there is no upper or lower limit to growth. And that, in particular, is the business model that we as an incubator can best help with.

What does an incubator do exactly?

In the early phase, the idea for a new product or service is still full of assumptions. This is when you are a startup, by our definition. We are going to help you turn those assumptions into facts by checking them: validating them. In that sense, it is quite similar to how scientists do research based on hypotheses.

To do this, we have devised a number of programmes. Our validation programmes come in three flavours: for students, for researchers and for tech entrepreneurs from outside academia.

We also have a programme for startups that already have one or a few customers and want to grow, which we call acceleration. At that stage, we no longer make a distinction between the three groups and we put everyone together. We also assume that people will be working on their startups three to four days a week by then.

UtrechtInc also organises events for startup entrepreneurs. The focus here is on facilitating encounters that might not have happened otherwise. We try to bring people into contact with each other in the area of talent, with investors, launching customers (a good first customer who inspires confidence in potential new customers, ed.) and mentors.

UtrechtInc has a pool of 130 voluntary mentors. These are people who, in one way or another, have earned their spurs in entrepreneurship and now enjoy helping the next generation a step further.

In the early phase, the idea for a new product or service is still full of assumptions. UtrechtInc helps you turn those assumptions into facts by checking them: validating them.

What happens during such a programme?

Our validation programmes are aimed at answering three major questions. First of all: is there a business in my research or in my concept? Often, people have an idea, but they don't know yet whether there is market potential for that idea. That is where we come in. We go through a number of steps to find out whether the customer exists, whether the problem exists and whether you can indeed bring a solution to that customer for that problem. And get paid for it too.

The second question we answer is: is entrepreneurship for me? Many people may have a too romantic image of entrepreneurship - or a scary, fearful one. So the period you go through the programme is also about finding out if entrepreneurship suits you as a person. Maybe you once started as an academic, and now you want to discover whether there is also an entrepreneur inside you.

The third question is: do I have all the skills I need to start a business? Think about marketing, sales, funding and finance, but also team building, interviewing clients and pitching. All these subjects are covered. In addition, you get a regular startup coach, someone who has coached over fifty startups and who helps you stay on the right track. In addition, we have this group of mentors and you have a community of other entrepreneurs around you.

What happens when people complete a programme?

Often a startup that starts a programme with us rents an office or a desk here for a day or a few days a week, to really be present in that entrepreneurial environment. After the programme, many startups stay for one or two years, because by then they know whether they will succeed in getting the company off the ground.

If it doesn't, they stop, move on to the next concept or go back to academia. If it succeeds, and most of them do, they often become too big for us, because we can only accommodate startups with up to seven or eight people. They then often move to a larger place in the Utrecht Science Park or to the city centre. On average, I think a startup stays with us for 18 to 24 months.

When can a researcher or student come to UtrechtInc?

I always enjoy talking to a researcher or student and I can actually tell quite quickly what stage someone is at, and whether it is interesting to look at participating in the programme. Sometimes you are too early, in some cases you are too late. But if you have doubts about whether your product would be suitable to run in a startup incubator, we can figure that out in fifteen minutes when we have a cup of coffee together, and that is always possible.

UtrechtInc is housed in the Hugo R. Kruyt building at Utrecht Science Park. Send Stefan an email to arrange a meeting or apply for a tour of the incubator during Meet UtrechtInc (every last Friday of the month).

Meet the startups

Are you curious about the startups at Utrecht Science Park and looking for an internship or (side) job at an Utrecht-based startup? On March 31, UtrechtInc hosts Meet Your Co-founder, a matching event for startups and talented students, researchers and alumni.

Meet UtrechtInc
Meet Your Co-founder