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Mastermind Summit & Competition brought together talented innovators and investors

As part of ICT Spring Europe, Mastermind Summit & Competition took place on September 15th. This event – dedicated to the startup ecosystem – aimed at promoting and spreading best practices, fostering emulation between entrepreneurs and VCs and offering recognition to the best international start-ups of the ecosystem. Mastermind was composed of a 1-day conference and a start-up competition where three key categories were represented: FinTech, DeepTech and NewSpace.

Mastermind Summit

After an official talk from Cindy Tereba, Director International Affairs, Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, and Michele Gallo, Director Digital Technologies and Start-Up, Ministry of Economy, the masters of ceremonies (photo), Amrita Singh, Senior International Affairs Advisor, EU Services & Cooperations at the Chamber of Commerce and Stefan Berend, Head of Start-up Acceleration of Luxinnovation, gave the stage to Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser, Government of Ireland, Willem Jonker, Chief Executive Officer, EIT Digital, and Stefano Pozzi Mucelli, Head of European R&D and Innovation Support, Luxinnovation, for a roundtable moderated by Lisa Burke, Presenter, actor, speaker, host, author: “Boosting businesses at a European scale: acceleration programmes & funding opportunities".

Europe is on its way to create a start-up ecosystem by connecting education, R&D, entrepreneurs, funding and financing. The European Union has equipped itself with the tools in order to do so. The three participants mainly highlighted the role of the European Innovation Council (EIC), which opened in April 2021 with a budget of 10.1 billion euros. The EIC is Europe’s flagship innovation programme to identify, develop and scale up breakthrough technologies, to support game-changing innovations throughout the lifecycle from early-stage research, to proof of concept, technology transfer, and the financing and scale-up of start-ups and SMEs. The three experts shared their enthusiasm and optimism. “It has never been a better time for innovation. Awareness is here, instruments are here, political will is here”, Jonker emphasized.

Jerome Wittamer, Tech investor, entrepreneur & co-founder, Expon Capital, then delivered a keynote on “How to build a Unicorn?”. Wittamer gave four key ingredients to build a company valued at more than 1 billion dollars. Ambition: you want to become the category leader in your field. Market: you need large opportunities and high growth potential. Team: you have to build a smart and talented team with grit to be able to iterate fast. Money: you need access to capital and the ability to ace the fundraising process. There’s a fifth key ingredient that is difficult to control: luck. He also presented four lessons learnt from Unicorn business leaders. “Don’t brainstorm start-up ideas, solve a problem. Establish a mission-driven company culture. Know when it’s time to pivot. When it comes to expansion, understand the problems facing new markets.”

Jerome Wittamer was then joined by Dr Claas Heise, Executive Director, NRW Bank, for a fireside chat entitled “DeepTech start-up journey: combining investors' expectations with today's greatest challenges”. Investors always think from a risk perspective, they have to find the right return-risk couple. In DeepTech, “risk for VC investors is not ideally aligned for the need of capital”, Heise explained. To measure the risk, VC investors use combinatorial analytics, meaning you add up the probability of success or failure for every step of the start-up development. “With a software company, it is easy to end up with a 34% chance of success. In DeepTech, probability of success is a simple digit”, Wittamer stated. One of the main issues in investing in DeepTech is the scaling issue. “It’s different from the software or digital world. The risks are just so huge that there is no interest in incremental advances and progress.” It’s not the best solution that wins, it’s the best-marketed solution that wins. Both of the participants are optimistic for the DeepTech field which is living a “renaissance”. “The European ecosystem over the last 10, 15 years has developed tremendously”, Heise concluded. 

The afternoon session started with a programme focused on the Greater Region. "Discover the Greater Region: EU's largest cross border ecosystem" was moderated by Claudine Bettendroffer, Country Leader - SQ Luxembourg, that brought together Philippe Linster, CEO, House of Startups (HoST), Jean-Jacques Bernardini, Head of Department - European Innovation Fundings Program, Nicolas Biet, Financial Adviser & Partner, The Faktory Fund, and Dr André A.R. Wilmes, CEO & Founder, Rafinex. The main challenge when you do business in the Greater Region is to deal with an international environment with different languages, protocols, legislation, and business cultures. All the participants teamed up to emphasize the need of getting local expertise in your team to build trust with local partners. On the other hand, the Greater Region is a reservoir of talent and a good starting point to growth on an international scale. The speakers highlighted the role of the EU-Tribe initiative created by The House of Startups (HoST) in Luxembourg and the Digital Devotion Group (DDG) in Kaiserslautern. This initiative aims at creating, promoting and supporting a cross-border innovation scene in the Greater Region. EU-Tribe serves as a fast-track for start-ups wanting direct access to the four European markets in the Greater Region.

"How FinTechs can stand out from their competitors? How to capitalize on trends?" was the topic of a roundtable moderated by Alex Panican, Head of Partnerships and Ecosystem, The LHoFT, that brought together Tom Holgersson, Director of Innovation, Scale-up and Expansion, Findec, Pauline Brunel, Investment manager in the Venture team, BlackFin, and Nameer Khan, Chairman of MENA Fintech Association (MFTA) and advisor to leading fintechs, one of the Top leading Fintech Influencers. Brunel pointed out the main trends in FinTech investments. The payment market, especially in the B2B space, is massive and the Covid crisis increased this evolution. BankTech is also growing, especially what is related to SMEs. In addition, she mentioned investment banking from DFI and wealth management.

From Sweden to UAE, all FinTech stakeholders are facing a shortage of talent. Just in Europe, “every year, there is a gap of 1.5 million developers”, explained Panican. Outsourcing to Eastern Europe and Asia is one of the solutions to tackle this challenge.

Among the ten most valued FinTech Unicorns in the world, only one comes from Europe (Klarna from Sweden). The difficulty to scale up is one of the explanations, according to Holgersson. Europe is composed of small countries compared to American or Chinese giants where investments are more important.

New Space was the next topic of the Mastermind Summit with a roundtable moderated by Lynn Zoenen, Investment manager, Alpine Space Ventures. Elia Montanari, Head of Management and Control, ESA, Raphael Roettgen, Managing Partner, E2MC Ventures, have been questioned on “Newcomers riding on technology innovations: what investors are really expecting?”.

In the last couple of years, we saw an “explosion of interest” for the space sector and the Covid crisis didn’t slow down this trend at all, “meaning that space is a good investment”, according to Montanari. When addressing investors, startups should not only highlight the technical aspects, Roettgen and Montanari explained. What investors are interested in is the potential commercialisation of innovative technologies. “Founders of startups need to focus on customers and business approach”, Roettgen stated. Of course, tech expertise is required but you also need to have commercial and sales expertise in your team. The speakers then emphasised the “splendid job” of Luxembourg to set up a space ecosystem that covers all the aspects of the sector: the financial side with VCs, the legal regulatory side, the educational side with the implementation of a Spacer Master Degree, the innovative side with the creation of incubators.

“The new startup Eldorado - accelerating programmes at an international level” was the last subject of the summit. The roundtable ?entitled "Acceleration programs and corporate innovation partnerships, how can they boost your start-up’s international expansion" moderated by Michele Gallo, Director Digital Technologies and Start-Up, Ministry of Economy, brought together Joe Kirgues, Cofounder, gener8tor, Marlon Evans, CEO, Nex Cubed, Kenneth Graham, CEO Tomorrow Street, and Pascal Bouvier, Co-founder & Managing Partner, MiddleGame Ventures.

Accelerators, VCs and corporate ventures funds do not intervene at the same stage of development of a start-up. Accelerators invest way earlier than VCs or corporations in pre-seed or seed start-ups. “VCs invest in start-ups that are mature enough that they should interact with corporates but not too mature that they are going to treat them as clients. We are the ones who should take the early-stage risk, not the corporates”, Bouvier explained. The main role of corporate ventures funds is to help start-ups to scale up. In order to do so, they have to choose “start-ups that already have a product, customers, and revenues with Organization structure in place that can interact with corporate”, Graham stated.

Mastermind Competition

With a large number of applications, Mastermind Competition has stirred interest from young innovative companies worldwide.

FinTech category

In the FinTech category, seven start-ups had been selected to participate in the final: Neuroprofiler (France), Emata (Uganda), FIN-PAY (Australia), Divizend GmbH (Germany), Greenomy (Belgium), Act Analytics (Canada) and Credgenics (India).

The winner of this first edition of Mastermind Competition in FinTech Category is FIN-PAY from Australia. FIN-PAY is the world’s only unified payments platform. Globally they deliver merchants the freedom and choice to accept any form of payment from customers using a simple app. It’s a simple solution to a global problem. Their vision is to enable merchants’ livelihoods no matter where or how they live and work.

DeepTech category

In the DeepTech category, seven start-ups had been selected to participate in the final: United Emotions (USA), Encapsulate (USA), Bfore.Ai (France), Spectral Transactive Memory Systems (France), Quantum Operation Inc. (Japan), Rejustify (Luxembourg) and Mithril Security SAS (France).

The winner is Encapsulate from the USA. Encapsulate is an automated tumour-on-a-chip system that can grow patients’ cancer cells outside the body, and test the efficacy of chemotherapeutic drugs against them to advocate for the best course of treatment.

NewSpace category

The six finalists in the NewSpace category were NeutronStar Systems UG (Germany), ClearSpace SA (Switzerland), Pale Blue (Japan), Mission Space (Latvia), Rogue Space Systems Corporation (USA) and Obruta Space Solutions (Canada). The winner is Pale Blue from Japan. Pale Blue aims to ensure sustainable space development around and beyond the Earth by water-based propulsion technologies. Pale Blue was founded in 2020 by researchers at The University of Tokyo who wanted to prove that science and technology maximize human well-being, and to drive small-satellite business by using water propulsion technologies.

Article by Nicolas Klein