Venture Challenge: life science research to the market

22 January 2020

The Venture Challenge was set up to help new entrepreneurs in life sciences take their first steps towards marketing their product or service. Since this week, participants can submit their candidacy for the spring round, the first to be organised by NWO on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate.

In 2010 Eline Vrijland-Van Beest was one of the participants in the Venture Challenge, which was organised by Top Sector Life Sciences & Health (Health~Holland) until last year. As a student at Delft University of Technology, Vrijland had designed a device to relieve people with sleep apnea. Her mission: to get the product to as many people as possible and ensure that it would be included in the basic package. The latter succeeded. And with regard to the first: Philips convinced her that with the knowledge and expertise of a large company, the device could be brought out into the world much faster. She was able to sell her company 'NightBalance' to the multinational in 2018. ‘The Venture Challenge was an engaging pressure cooker that provided us with a strong and relevant network in the sector’, she would say later. ‘It also connected us with a strong and relevant network in the sector.’

Strengthening the innovation chain

These are exactly the reasons why the Ministry of Economic Affairs launched the Venture Challenge twelve years ago together with the Top Sector Life Sciences & Health (LSH). ‘We naturally look at the entire innovation chain to see how we can best strengthen and support it. Especially in the initial phase, something was still missing', says Luuk Klomp, deputy director at the Innovation & Knowledge directorate at the Ministry. ‘That's how this instrument came into being, focusing on scientists who are thinking about whether the service or product resulting from their research could also have commercial and societal value. Whether they themselves wish to remain involved as researchers. Or whether they want to involve someone with a more commercial background.' Through, among other things, two bootcamp sessions and intensive coaching, the participating teams will receive support in finding answers to such questions in a programme of approximately ten weeks.

Broadening to other Top Sectors

Until now, the Venture Challenge was exclusively aimed at the Topsector LSH. Klomp: 'We think it could also be interesting for other Top Sectors. That's why it really has added value for us that from now on the instrument will be more generically prepared and organised by NWO: that makes it easier to broaden it in the long term. And hopefully it will also increase exposure. NWO has a good reputation, knows the scientific world very well, of course, and is able to implement this in a thorough and objective manner. And finally, it fits in well with other instruments and grants provided by NWO, such as Take-off.

Spring edition: registration open

The Venture Challenge is organised twice a year: in spring and in autumn. Registration for the spring edition opened this week; candidates can compete for one of the available places by submitting the application form. Deadline for application is 25 February, after which the board of NWO Domain Applied and Engineering Sciences will determine which participants will be admitted on the basis of the remuneration advice of an Advisory Committee no later than 6 April (please see the brochure for the exact procedure).

Access to relevant parties

According to Ashna Raghoebarsing, senior policy advisor at the Ministry, past editions show that it happens regularly that teams successfully bring their product or service to the market after the Venture Challenge. The mutual contacts and access to the broad network also prove valuable for many of the participants. NightBalance is just one of many examples of former participants that are now very successful. The nice thing is that people like Eline Vrijland come and tell their story to the new participants. This gives them access to all kinds of parties that may be relevant to the further development of their company. Of course, that's very inspiring and it also creates a community.

Don't change what’s right

Under the motto ‘do not change what is working well', all parties are committed to continue the Venture Challenge in a similar way. NWO and Top Sector LSH are therefore seeking cooperation as much as possible. Klomp: 'We are satisfied if the positive feedback that we have received from the participants so far will continue in the coming editions. And for the longer term it would be nice if we succeed in opening the doors to other sectors with the Venture Challenge'.

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Source: NWO