Europe-Based Hardware Accelerator, High Tech XL, Targets IoT, Robotics, Graphene, Med-Tech & More

Calling hardware startups, there’s a new high tech accelerator in town. High Tech XL, sited on what is an old Philips high tech campus in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, is currently on the hunt for its first intake of 10 startups, for an up to six month mentoring programme that starts on November 11.

High Tech XL is a collaboration between VC Firm Dutch Expansion Capital and global accountancy firm Ernst & Young, partnering with the existing Startupbootcamp accelerator network. The accelerator’s specific areas of focus, within the high tech/hardware space, will include: Internet of Things/M2M; semiconductor industry; advanced robotics; advanced materials (such as graphene); med-tech and autonomous vehicles.

While software bootcamps still dominate the incubator scene, dedicated hardware accelerators (and/or hardware arms added to existing incubator programmes) have been springing up to minister to/surf the wave of the maker renaissance that’s being fuelled by crowdfunding sites and cheaper electronics component costs. Examples include China-based Haxlr8r; Flextronics’ backed Lab IX; the U.K.-based springboard incubator (albeit, now merged with TechStars); and a joint R/GA and Techstars programme aimed specifically at accelerating connected devices, to name a few.

Startups hoping to apply to High Tech XL can apply from anywhere in the world, and can be bootstrapped or seed-funded already. Those selected are likely to have a capital need of between €500,000 and €2.5 million, according to Bart Lugard, Head of Team Selection at Startupbootcamp HighTechXL. Selected startups will not, however, receive any guaranteed funding as part of the programme but will get access to a pool of 200+ investors to pitch for funding during the course of the programme.

Lugard told TechCrunch the idea to create a dedicated hardware accelerator was triggered after Dutch Expansion Capital found itself repeating the advice it was giving to hardware startups — and figured out it would be more efficient to create a programme to mentor several at once.  The accelerator has been about a year in the making up to this point.

Common problems the VC firm identified for hardware startups was the relative difficulty for them to reach larger suppliers (such as big OEMs) and the amount of time wasted in trying to connect with “the right people” at these companies; a lack of foresight around supply chain scalability to ensure a successful startup is able to keep up with growing demand for its product; and a lack of initial capital needed for entry into the hardware market.

“We saw all those mistakes… and we thought you’ll have a much stronger and better company if you have all those from the start,” says Lugard. “A good supply chain, improved connections, you bring in the right people, the right methods and you have people behind who can fund it [rather than having to boostrap] that can give you the capital needed for market entry then you have a really nice mix of building a ‘startup on steroids’.”

The High Tech XL programme is backed by 110 dedicated mentors, which it hopes to expand to 150 by the time the programme kicks off. The accelerator intake will also have access to mentors across the startupbootcamp pool, according to Lugard. Plus, the ex-Philips-owned high tech campus/Eindhoven location has been chosen to tailor to the hardware focus, with various high tech companies already sited in the area.

Philips sold the campus to a private investor around two years ago with the idea of creating a more diverse startup hub, according to Lugard. The electronics maker still has a presence on the campus, along with some 120 startups, SMEs and other multinational companies. This mixed estate — which includes a central canteen where people from different companies can mix — is a key ingredient of the accelerator’s  supportive mix, he adds.

The inaugural High Tech XL programme will run for three months, at which point there will be a demo day (in February) attended by investors, for the startups to make their funding pitches. The cohort will then have the option to stay on at the campus for a further three months — meaning the programme can offer up to six months of supported mentoring in all.

Asked what he’s looking for as he sifts applications, Lugard says the key aspects are a strong team with complementary skills plus a disruptive product — ideally in prototype form.

“First of all what we look for is a solid team. What we’re looking for is startups of two, three, four people. That you have complementary skills in your team: technical, commercial,” he says. “Secondly we are looking for a disruptive technology — something that will solve a problem which is in the market right now. Plus if you can already show a prototype or proof of principle, so you are already able to really show us the outcome of your product, that would give you a big advantage.”

Despite the desire to see tangible evidence of your cool new gizmo, Lugard says applicants who haven’t managed to get that far should still apply — filling in as much detail as they can. “We will call all the teams that have applied and which look interesting,” he adds.

He also confirmed that startups that have already funded or part-funded a project via crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter would be ideal candidates for the programme.

Online applications to High Tech XL are open until September 8, but the accelerator will also be running pitch days in various cities, as well as accepting remote pitches via Skype until October 1 when the application process will close. Twenty startups will then be chosen to take part in a final pitch process at the campus on October 13 and 14, before the intake is whittled down to the final 10.