Accelerating deeptech companies in Estonia

29 January 2021
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The North Star accelerator

Supporting science-based businesses is a key function of many science parks, who know that deep tech companies in particular, with their empahsis on long term research, need broad-based cooperation and support to reach market readiness. To provide this support, two IASP members from Estonia, Tartu Science Park and Tallinn Science Park Tehnopol, have teamed up to launch a unique accelerator pilot program Põhjanael (North Star).

Alongside TalTech – Tallinn University of Technology and the University of Tartu, they will be working to take research-intensive companies to a new level. The North Star accelerator aims to bring them to market and investor readiness within 9 months, with a unique methodology and the help of a mentor network, as well as creating a long-term model of cooperation as a basis for a common accelerator.

Deep tech companies are often working to solve big topical problems, with the first years of development spent on product development and new technology to find the right niche in the market. Their main challenge is how to apply research to solve practical problems so that their R&D team can gain a business perspective and develop a business model, in addition to the product or technology. Researchers who are able to see and solve complex problems can also innovatively address real-world bottlenecks based on the same approach. The transfer of science to business makes it possible to solve real problems in a way that benefits society more broadly and ensures that the operating model is sustainable. 

Kadri Tammai, the Head of Tehnopol Startup Incubator, explains that deep tech projects have been mainly funded through local or international research grants. “This is a good start, not the end goal. Our mission is to build a sustainable model on how the transfer from science to business will become investment ready and have a business model that also showcases the demand from the consumers side and willingness to pay for the innovative products and services,” says Tammai.

As North Star mentor Heidi Kakko says, "In the next ten years, we could see Estonia's first deep tech unicorn! Maybe even faster as there are already some strong deep tech companies on the rise and the Estonian startup ecosystem is very supportive and agile". 

Globally there are many support models and strategies that work very well locally, but they are not always directly transferable to other contexts. Andrus Kurvits, Board Member of Tartu Science Park, explains that the findings of the North Star project and the long-term experiences of the science parks and universities involved, will allow the creation of an approach tailored to Estonia.  "It takes more than a decade and broad-based cooperation of the ecosystem to get a deep-tech startup off the ground. Therefore failing fast is not the option, but learning from mistakes and building together for the future is the only way."

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