Tec Labs at Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade Lisboa leverages flexibility to attract broader range of startups

Photo Credits: TecLabs

Universidade de Lisboa, or ULisboa, is a public research university in Lisbon, Portugal, and the largest university in the country. It is among the top 150 universities in the world according to the 2018 QS World University Rankings. Its Faculty of Sciences runs around 500 academic and research collaborations and hosts an incubator known as Tec Labs. In the last 10 years, it has seen more than twenty spin-offs and hundreds of successful R&D projects.

The incubator programme dates back around 30 years

Around 30 years ago, the incubator was created by the Institute of Applied Science and Technology to bridge the gap between academia and industry. Then, it largely focused on applied research and promotion of technology transfer activities, but small companies started to emerge from projects. The incubator was rebranded in 2012 with a clear market focus. It became fully integrated with the Faculty of Sciences at ULisboa in 2014: until then, it was managed autonomously in the form of a non-profit association, yet it always had an institutional connection with the Faculty, being the main one, although not the only one, associated. It now works as both an incubator focusing on science and technology and a technology transfer office.

The incubator is broadly focused on science and technology

The incubator is particularly interested in disruptive innovation. It generally works across four main areas: Health and Well-being, Emerging Tech, Food, Farm, Forest and Sea, Urban Mobility, and Sustainability. The incubator aims to link innovative and disruptive businesses to the faculty, as a way of creating synergy between start-ups and the university.

There is no defined incubator programme

The incubator does not have a specific programme, because every start-up is different and has different requirements. The approach is tailored, based on an initial analysis of each company.

The Boost Program focuses on supporting companies in terms of incubation: an incubated company receives regular support from the team in different areas like business Ideation and development, creative support, communication and marketing, access to finance and investment and talent recruitment.

To fulfil the mission of Technology Transfer, a dedicated tool ScienceIN2Business® has been developed which methodology is based on the following three fundamental pillars: Learning, Selection, and Evolution.

· On the Learning pillar there are several courses on entrepreneurship and innovation available to students in all study degrees in order to promote a mindset change within the Faculty.

· Then on the Selection pillar there is a programme for researchers called Call for Projects, and a Summer School for students and both have the main goal of stimulating entrepreneurship, innovation and knowledge transfer within the Faculty and ULisboa. The Call for Projects selects five candidates who are given access to help and support in a short-term business development programme, and then the winner is awarded with a monetary prize and has access to industry partners and investors. The Summer School is an intensive six-day training programme on topics like design thinking, business creation and pitching, while students also solve challenges provided by partner companies.

· Both finalist of the Call for Projects and Summer School join in the last phase of the methodology, the Evolution one, where they have access to Tec Labs ecosystem and team/mentors support in order to develop their projects further and stimulate the creation of spin-offs or licensing projects.

Photo Credits: TecLabs

The main criteria for entering the incubator is that the programme will add value

Companies entering the incubator are carefully assessed to ensure that there is alignment with the Incubator’s core values. Additional evaluation criteria look at how innovative, disruptive and scalable is the solution as well as the team promoting it. The incubator aims to be differentiating and add-value to all those involved: as a university-based incubator, it provides connections in terms of teaching and research, as well as a multi-disciplinary approach promoting companies of different sectors. Furthermore, having its own laboratory space contributes to attracting companies when choosing an incubation space.

There are two specific short-term programmes for researchers and students

There is a programme for researchers called Call for Projects, and a Summer School for students. Both these programmes aim to find and help projects at the university that have market potential. The Call for Projects selects five candidates who are given access to help and support in a short-term programme, and then the winner is given a monetary prize and a year of incubation in Tec Labs. Once within the incubator, companies tend to stay three to five years, because they need access to lab space. The Summer School is an intensive five-day programme that selects four winners who are then supported until they can showcase their ideas to investors. The main benefit of entering the incubator is access to the wider ecosystem to help companies and individuals develop their projects further.

The incubator has both challenging goals and a strong track record

The incubator’s goal is that every project will end up in the market, either through licensing or through the creation of a spin-off. Its main success metrics are the success rate of companies, and whether they obtain funding, and the number of jobs created over time.

In the last 30 years, the incubator has been involved in the creation of 120 companies, resulting in around 80 jobs per year, and generating nearly 30 million euros in revenue. The programme is entirely funded by the faculty and is self-sustainable thanks to the proceeds from the incubation.

Future plans include internationalization and the creation of a formal network around the incubator

Major future goals for the incubator are to continue focusing on internationalization to keep on attracting more international startups, partners and investors. Future plans also include the formalization of a connection network between companies and industry enabling consolidation and amplification of the technology transfer work.