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From Idea to Impact: The Journey of EPCON and imec.istart


In a wry yet insightful remark featured in The New Yorker, Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, outlined the algorithm for gauging a startup's potential success as "a blend of Idea, Product, Execution, Team, and the capricious variable of Luck, akin to a random number spanning zero to ten thousand." 


In the realm of startup growth, instead of relying on luck, business accelerators can play a vital role. They assume a pivotal role in nurturing innovation and fostering the growth of budding startups. EPCON had such an experience in 2018, as a budding healthtech endeavour, centred on AI-driven health risk quantification, accelerated by investment from the imec.istart Fund.    


imec istart

Boosting start-ups

Ranked as the top university-affiliated business accelerator globally by UBI Global, imec.istart plays a crucial role in assisting tech startups in achieving significant milestones. These milestones encompass preparing the startup and its product for market, fostering growth, and attracting investors. Since 2011, imec.istart has invested in over 300 companies, handpicking around 30 promising startups annually. Ilse Vanhulle, Venture Accelerator Manager at imec.istart, sheds light on some of the program’s myriad benefits, including:  


  • €50K pre-seed funding: This includes a €50,000 cash investment for 6% equity stake.

  • Personal coaching: The startup’s team’s openness to learning and willingness to embrace feedback - termed as “coachability” - stands as a crucial factor during the initial selection phase.

  • Tech community: Startups benefit from the collective insights of over 500 like-minded digital tech entrepreneurs sharing similar goals and experiences.

  • International network: When imec.istart invests in a startup, that business gains access to a global network, facilitating its expansion on an international scale. For instance, the biannual Investors Day boasts an audience of over 100 investors.


A winning formula: a robust team with a compelling use case 

Back in 2018, when EPCON sought entry into imec.istart, healthtech ventures were relatively scarce. Fast forward to today, things have shifted. Vanhulle notes that about one third of the 2023 applications now revolve around health tech - a significant increase over recent years. “EPCON was among the pioneers in harnessing AI within the health sector,” she points out.


Vanhulle adds that what attracted imec.start was EPCON’s blend of strong technical expertise and their use of AI to identify undetected TB hotspots. Moreover, EPCON’s choice to establish roots in Antwerp, while doing work with international reach, resonated well with them. As part of the program, imec.istart provides complimentary office space, shared among various tech startups. In fact, during the early days, Vincent Meurrens, one of EPCON’s founders, shared office space with the imec.istart team and several other startups. Currently, EPCON’s offices are located in Dunden, known as the Healthhub of Antwerp, where a number of other istart portfolio companies are also based. 


When evaluating prospective companies, readiness for growth stands as a crucial component. Does the business have the potential to scale? In EPCON’s case, their proficiency in employing AI to assess disease burden and generate predictive insights began with TB. They’ve subsequently expanded their product’s scope to encompass various illnesses, diverse geographic areas, and even institutions like health insurance companies. 


In addition, the team’s strength plays an essential role in a company’s success. In EPCON’s instance, the founders’ diverse skill sets complemented each other exceptionally well. Additionally, they demonstrated a reading for growth through their openness to coaching and further development.  


Accelerators such as imec.istart not only support early-stage enterprises like EPCON but also act as agents of innovation. They empower startups to navigate the intricate landscape of the market, enabling them to bring about significant changes in the world.

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