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Investment
03/22/2012

Startup Exchange Program Tests Foreign Markets

Incubators and accelerators are one of the most common ways for startups to, well, startup, and they serve a very unique and special place in the ecosystem. And while these types of programs serve a number of entrepreneurs and help them accomplish otherwise unobtainable goals, there’s a certain amount that must be said for real-world, boots-on-the-ground practical experience.

Working in conjunction with 6 unique incubators from across Europe, the Porto, Portugal based Startup eXchange Program is seeking to provide startups with the opportunity to put their ideas and knowledge to the test in a foreign market.  Based on the premise that "Startups can’t just look to their local markets” the Startup eXchange Program is headed up by the Startup Pirates team, and is providing fledgling companies not only with the opportunity to test their ideas in foreign markets, but to dig deep into the knowledge and experience that only local incubators and culture can provide.

And where are these top destinations?  Well, London and Berlin would seem like the obvious choices, but with the underlying goal of the program is to, "increase the economic impact of startups in Europe, develop a global thinking among startup founders, and fostering a stronger European spirit among entrepreneurs,” the Startup eXchange Program is going a different route, and moving startups around to areas of Europe that are technologically significant in their own right, but don’t always get the biggest headlines.  These cities/areas and their associated incubators are:

Catania, SicilyYHC Student Incubator
Helsinki, Finland – Aalto Venture Garage
Karlsruhe, GermanyCIE-KIT
Porto, Portugal - UPTEC
Stockholm, SwedenKTH Student Incubator
Turku, Finland - BoostTurku

      Applications
      The application process kicked off only last week, and runs until April 12th.  Not specifically locked into any one type of startup, the Startup eXchange Program is open to any and all that are seeking to further test and explore their business model, particularly within a foreign country within Europe.  Each (relatively) local incubator will select one winner to move to one of the other areas/incubators in the group.  For example, Catania’s YHC Student Incubator will select one startup to travel to Stockholm’s KTH Student Incubator, and one startup to travel to Turku’s Startup Farm.

      Open for everyone
      "We’re open to just about any startup.  During our selection process, we’ll be looking at what markets and emerging technology centers would be the best fit for the particular startup,” comments Startup Pirate João Oliveira.  Some of the opportunities and programs at the individual incubators are focusing on startups that are developing new products (i.e. Summer of Startups in Helsinki), but those with tested products and services are also eligible to take part, as they can almost certainly benefit from gaining new market experience, meeting potential clients, and as always, the more investors and partners you know, the better.

      Once a startup has been selected to participate, they’ll work closely with a local incubator that will provide free working space, information and access to the local market, mentors, investors, and potential clients and/or partners, and of course, logistics support.  The goal is that through this collaborative exchange startups from different geographic regions of Europe can feel quite at home in their temporary home for 2-3 months and provide them with all the resources they need to test, meet, and succeed in this new market.

      Focusing on Europe
      "We’ve spent a lot of time speaking with other startup related organizations, and we’ve always wanted to do a pan-Europe exchange program between countries.  A series of emails and phone conversations later, we had a number of other interested incubators, and we just decided to go for it,” comments Oliveira.  "Right now, we’re focusing on Europe, but this is just a pilot.  We’ve already spoken a few potential collaborators in Mexico and India.”

      Oliveira informs me that this project was born for a simple idea, and through the support of 6 incubators in 5 European countries it’s now become a reality.  Providing various startups from around Europe with the opportunity to test and grow in foreign markets is truly the best way for them to not only see if their idea/project has roots outside their locale, but also gain valuable insight into "other” ways of doing business that’s simply not possible outside of actually, physically being there.

      The Startup eXchange Program is now accepting applications from any and all interested startups through April 12th. In the following two weeks, the incubators will then collectively review all applications, determine if the applicant is a good match for potential exchange partner/area, and select their winners.  These winners will be notified on May 1, and the exchange program will commence on June 1st.