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  • Writer's pictureStartup Campus

Making innovation and incubation international

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

Startup Campus is an international innovation centre and startup incubator that develops and implements innovation programs for corporations and governmental partners and support innovative projects with educational, incubation, investment, sales and foreign market entry services from early-phase ventures up to SMEs with great growth potential.

What makes the agency stand out is that, unlike its peers in other countries that focus on developing programs for their country, Startup Campus has offices in London and Berlin specific programs to enter, say, the German market exist but none that would provide access to markets both in Central and Western Europe. “Most countries promote their own markets. We see a value proposition in offering a gateway to not only Hungary but also the British and the German markets”, Zsolt Kovács, CEO told the Budapest Business Journal. “Europe, in general, is an important reference for any company wishing to move forward to the US, or another market”, he adds.

The original idea behind opening offices abroad was to help Hungarian startups enter foreign markets. “We have been working on creating such a network since 2018 in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the incubators of many countries”, Kovács says. Initially, there were more potential hubs on their list including New York or Shenzen. “Later, we realized that it is more sustainable and effective to focus on fewer – the ones we are in closer contact with”, he adds.

Startup Campus set up a hub in Berlin that works as a typical boutique agency. In the past 3 years, the office, which focuses primarily on the health industry and medicine, has managed to gain recognition as a supplier of promising health/tech and related enterprises. The team of experts, mentors and investors has so far organized more than 200 business meetings and helped roughly 40 Hungarian startups to start off abroad. Why medicine?Germany has one of the world’s most advanced health care systems. If you make it here, you’ll make it anywhere”, Kovács explains. In addition to Hungarians, the German office helped Norwegian, Portuguese, French and British startups as well.

In London, the focus is on international validation; the office is in touch with several investors and their portfolio companies. Startups tend to be unaware of the specificities of another market having worked in only one. “In Hungary, the market will often give a false review. This is why it is crucial that they get feedback from a different business environment during the product development phase”, Kovács says. Otherwise, they may end up with a product unfit for other markets, he explains. In London, teams get honest feedback from foreign mentors and investors on how mature and what chances their idea/product would stand in a different setting. Their local investors are also given a report from their peers which is crucial to decide on how to proceed.

Another strength of these programs is that they prepare participants for the peculiarities stemming from a different (business) culture. Business is done differently in western societies so enterprises wishing to operate on a global market have to prepare for that. From pitching to negotiations to product development – expectations vary country by country.

Investors these startups target are extremely busy and doesn’t have time to listen to lengthy pitches. „In Germany, they may be more patient but in the UK if someone doesn’t get to the point, they simply won’t listen”, Olivia Exton, program coordinator explains. „We are helping them acquire a global mindset.” Where they come from business culture is different; they have a different sense of time which may account for them talking longer or not answering the question they get asked.

Serving as a stepping stone to the busiest markets of Europe expanding the program for enterprises outside of Europe made sense. The first international cooperation within the Discover Europe program was with the Malaysian Innovation Ministry. Within the program Startup Campus created together with Malaysian incubators participants got an insight into the business ecosystems of three countries, were given business and investment advice and had the opportunity to show their offers to investors as well. This program gave a broader overview of general training, business development, sales advice. But depending on the composition of the teams (how mature their companies are, what industry focus they have, etc.) the program can be tailored accordingly.

Last December, Startup Campus struck an agreement with the Innovation Agency of Azerbaijan and created a workshop together. The aim of the cooperation is to develop a strong national startup capacity capable to integrate into the European business ecosystem. Sponsored by BP in Azerbaijan, five Azeri teams arrive in Budapest in December to attend a business meeting, consult with mentors, participate in educational and capacity building trainings.

The goal is that they take the initial steps here”, Kovács says. Hungary and Budapest are excellent locations for budding enterprises: the infrastructure, the innovation ecosystems and, via Startup Campus, the closeness to western markets. “If they starting off here they are more likely to set up a base and continue to operate from here too thus contributing to the local economy”, Kovács says. Co-operation goes both ways: it is no secret that by bringing enterprises to Hungary Startup Campus is looking to strengthen ties with these countries to ease Hungarian enterprises’ entry into those huge and untapped markets.

The agency has agreed with the Brazilian Embassy in Budapest about a Hungary-focused program for Brazilian firms next year. They are also in talks with Morocco and the Philippines. Startup Campus is also working on a program with Uzbekistan with the Ministry of Foreign affairs and Trade to hand over best practices to local firms. It is consciously reaching out to countries the Hungarian government have entered into some agreement. “There is a lot of untapped potential in these bilateral ties that are currently used. If we can get them involved and bring them to Hungary, a startup can quickly grow to a 100 million dollar company. That is why it is crucial that they are tied to Hungary in some way”, Kovács explains.

The overall aim is to create regularly running programs. To achieve that, Startup Campus is seeking to widen cooperation with corporate partners in Hungary. “With our partners, we would like to take these projects to the next level and allow enterprises to join every six months.

Discover Europe is the agency’s flagship program abroad, Startup Campus is highly active in Hungary as well. Industry partnerships is one such area. SC offers to a selected few innovation and investment programs in certain industries. Business development, mentoring, a platform to test ideas in 5 weeks plus for the best teams 5 more weeks of investment training and capital investment of up to HUF 20 million from Hiventures. This year’s programs include TokajTech, in cooperation with the region’s government commissioner György Wáberer, to map out the innovation opportunities related to the Tokaj-Zemplén region. Through the program, ideas revolutionizing viticulture, gastronomy, accommodation technology and tourism will be invited.

The HUMDA Startup Program was launched by the Hungarian Automobile-Motorsport Development Agency for the renewal of motorsport. Organizers expect innovations in the areas of mobility, road safety, urban transport or racing preparation. Here ideas promoting less emission, greener ways of transport, a more modern vehicle fleet and sustainability are supported as well as alternative drive/fuel technologies including electricity or hydrogen. HUMDA's Green Mobility Directorate will bring together programs related to powertrains, which will be complemented by the electromobility part of the implementation of the National Hydrogen Strategy.

The SportTech Hungary Program was established in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hungarian Export Development Agency (HEPA), Eximbank and Startup Campus to help Hungarian sports technology innovations prepare to enter global markets and to encourage the export of companies that are competitive abroad.

The initiative has created unprecedented cooperation between the state, market players and athletes. Its mission is to take advantage of the exceptional global network that our internationally accomplished athletes have built up to date”, Kovács says. “We were looking for sports technology teams that offer an internationally validated, innovative product or service that may already be sold in foreign markets”, he adds.

The selected teams have ideas/products that will revolutionize fan experience, are involved in fitness park and sports equipment manufacturing, measure the mental sync of athletes, make intelligent activewear, or develop custom racing yachts. One of the participants’ apps (Seyu) was already used at this year’s Paralympics in Tokyo. Using the application, fans could send photos to the members of the Paralympic team, which the competitors can see between competitions. During the activity, each athlete could be encouraged with a message personally sent to them.

Another program ran this year is CheckINN, an initiative of the Hungarian Tourism Association Foundation. Organizers were looking for ideas that can help solve the problems of overcrowded/popular travel destinations, that support a fast and safe restart of aviation, for a new contactless experience. In this program, too successful candidates could master the basics of skills such as time management, product development, business planning, and devise their market entry strategy, marketing plans.


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