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Terry Boyd
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Tech scouting at HighTechXL:  Building better companies is what we do

HighTechXL brings deep tech to life. With the goal of pushing impactful technologies to market, HighTechXL brings in advanced technologies and builds teams around them to make this happen. But how to find that technology? That’s where Earl Goetheer and the tech scouting team of HighTechXL come in.

Earl Goetheer is the CTO of HighTechXL and, together with his team, they search for technologies that solve major problems in the world.

“We look for novel technology. We work with hardware-related deep tech, which is innovative and impactful. We quickly zoom in on the technologies that can have the most impact,” says Goetheer.

Tech scouting is a big part of the magic behind HighTechXL’s work. After all, they must decide which technologies to bring in that investors are going to want two years from now. That’s the “million-dollar question,” as Goetheer has been known to say.

On this front, HighTechXL evaluates technologies on four different dimensions.

Technologies should have a societal impact, be novel and innovative and have a large potential market. But lastly, the technology should also be fairly advanced. If the idea is only on paper, then it will just take too much time before it can be commercialized.

“That often means killing some ideas early on, but in this way, we build better companies. And that’s the real trick of the game – building better companies.”

The program isn’t limited to only one type of tech. HighTechXL has built a broad network of experts and mobilizes the strong local and regional ecosystem to help evaluate technology in the scouting phase and support the ventures throughout the program.

To find these technologies, HighTechXL partners with technical institutes that spin out technologies that could just be sitting on the shelf because they don’t fit within the organization anymore.

TNO, Philips and CERN are close partners, along with the European Space Agency and other research institutes farther abroad.

Sometimes these partners will present technologies to HighTechXL, while other times, Goetheer and his colleagues are the ones directly seeking out interesting technologies in a specific focus area, such as energy storage or photonics.

Once a technology is identified, it goes through a rigorous evaluation process. The investigation dives into the status of the patents, how the technology can be used and further discussions with the researchers. Then, the technology is brought to HighTechXL’s Discovery Board, a group of tech experts with specific fields of expertise or business backgrounds. This in-depth feedback from experts is invaluable. They drill down into the details. Is it really new? Does it have the unique selling propositions that the researcher claims? Does it have IP? Is someone else doing this already? How could the technology be used? Can we build a company with impact that addresses one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

If everything checks out in the due diligence process and the technology meets the program’s long list of criteria, HighTechXL looks for a team that fits the technology. They try to match the technical expertise and business know-how needed to build and launch a viable business.

“After the discovery board and our tech team says ‘yes,’ that is the moment that we connect with our colleagues who can find the right co-founding team to bring the technology forward,” explains Goetheer.

Sometimes, the original researchers even join the team.

“Getting the inventor to join the team is the best place to start. That’s ideal. They know the technology through and through. They can develop the technology further and know what it can and cannot do,” explains Joris Jansens, Tech Scout and Venture Support Manager at HighTechXL.

“In the case of Carbyon, one of our ventures, the inventor and a close researcher of the technology stepped into the team. It creates an immense drive in the team and boosts the technological development.”

The new founding team quickly takes charge of the technology and starts building the venture in HighTechXL’s program. It’s in the new team’s hands to define the path ahead, create a business case and validate the use cases and markets, although they are supported the whole way by the HighTechXL team.

HighTechXL has been around for almost a decade, but yet it has shifted strategies just like it would advise any of its startups to do if something wasn’t working quickly enough. While the program continues to search for existing, standalone startups with their own technology, a technology spin-out from a partner is now the standard path to building a venture.

“If you look at the history of HighTechXL, in the beginning, we were only focused on accelerating existing startups and helping them go faster to the market,” explained Goetheer. “But we saw that something was missing. Something is needed even before that stage. And that’s building ventures from the ground up.”

This is what makes the HighTechXL program so unique. There are not many places in Europe with the resources and the tech ecosystem to do this, but the Brainport region checks all of the boxes.

“We bring technology to the right team so we can accelerate it. This is essential,” says Goetheer.

“We can’t afford to have decades of research and development anymore. We have to be much faster to tackle societal problems. That’s the reason why HighTechXL made the switch to building companies. We hope to create ASML’s of the future. That’s our ambition level here at HighTechXL.”