Starting a business? Find out who’s your customer!

YES!Delft is an incubator which helps students, scientists and professionals to start a company and doing business. The center was established in 2005 and focuses on technological innovation. The initial LaunchLab program helps startups to discover who their customers are and what the potential of their product is. They also learn to use iteration and develop their value proposition and business

Challenge

How do you know if your technological innovations have market potential?

Solution

Set up a systematic program where teams learn to go out there, talk to potential customers and adapt business models to new insights.

YES!Delft from Delft

As its name suggests, YES!Delft is based in the Dutch town of Delft, home of one of the country’s prominent tech universities. It’s a breeding ground for innovative ideas and new technologies. Potential entrepreneurs start their journey by getting the basics right: they develop their business model and research their idea’s market potential. This means picking up the phone and getting in touch with potential customers.

How it started…

YES!Delft was established in 2005 to bring the knowledge at TU Delft to market, explains LaunchLab manager Elsbeth Geukers. “We have since become Europe’s largest tech incubator. Participants arrive from everywhere these days, not just the university. We help them to start their business, get funding and build their product.” The LaunchLab was introduced four years ago, to make sure startups hit the ground running. “During a period of three months, startups learn who their customers are, how the market works and which business model fits their product. It all revolves around the question of how to translate an innovative idea to a successful and scalable business.”

During the LaunchLab, startups take their first baby steps onto the market. “For some techies, this takes some getting used to”, according to Elsbeth. “They are used to staying in and fine-tuning their product. The outside world is unknown territory, even though that’s where you’ll find the people who have to buy your product. Only by listening to the wishes of your target audience will you discover whether you’re truly solving their problems. You may discover that you have to adjust the product or focus on an entirely different audience.

A hundred interviews

The LaunchLab teams spend their week talking to potential customers and meet each other every Friday. Elsbeth encourages participants to conduct one hundred customer interviews during the program. “However, they usually do about thirty, which is also a fine result.” Many participants are intimidated at first to pick up the phone or talk to people in the streets, but most end up enjoying the conversations. “Their not doing sales, it’s about truly learning something about their customer. For instance, three researchers have this idea of putting sensors in mattress springs to measure sleep patterns. They visit bed stores and talk to customers and sales people. It’s a very accessible way of doing research, which nevertheless results in valuable insights. You get to know your customer and are able to test your assumptions about them and your product.”

Business Models Inc. leads two hands-on, energetic workshops during the LaunchLab program, says Elsbeth. “The first workshop is called ‘Get Out of the Building’; it develops an entrepreneurial mindset and hands the startups the tools to define their value proposition. Moreover, it teaches them the skills to learn what their customers truly need. The ‘Experiment Design’ workshop follows during a later stage and focuses on the tools and skills to experiment cheaply and quickly. This way, startups can find out if their value proposition truly adds value or not.”

Startups with enough market potential are welcomed to the YES!Delft incubator. They can rent an office and participate in various programs aimed at the starting, developing and scaling of their company. Elsbeth: “Most startups spend quite some time at YES!Delft, ranging from four to six years. This has to do with the type of products they produce, which are usually based on complex technologies.” The approach has proven to be successful: thirty to forty percent of startups under their guidance eventually make over one million Euros in revenues, says Elsbeth. “Most of them just do well. A very small percentage of companies turns out not to be viable.”

Professionalisation

YES!Delft will focus on professionalisation in the coming future. “The LaunchLab is a huge success”, says Elsbeth. “We can still do more for entrepreneurs who want to scale up their existing business, like going abroad. How do you find international customers and investors? How do local law and politics affect your business? We want to spend more time going into those topics. In the meantime, we keep on growing, just like our name. YES!Delft is no longer a startup.”

Business Models Inc. is involved with the design and running of the Launchlab! for start-ups at YES!Delft since the start in 2011.

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