iCAN-TTA demo day showcases Taiwan startup energy

Sandy Du, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

In view of the fact that academic research has always been a key force driving national economic development, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) commissioned the Center of Industry Accelerator and Patent Strategy (IAPS), National Chiao Tung University to carry out the Integrated Cross-campus Accelerator Network (iCAN) program in 2016 and further established the Taiwan Tech Arena (TTA) in 2018 for the purpose of commercializing research results and promoting academia-industry collaborations. To demonstrate the strength of the startup teams that MOST has fostered, 2020 iCAN X TTA Batch#2 Demo Day was held on December 1, 2020 at TTA and was attended by venture capital fund managers and corporate executives as well as iCAN startup teams.

Not only was the event aimed to enable partnership opportunities between startups and enterprises, but intended to recognize the startup teams that performed outstandingly during the second half of 2020.

Chun-Yi Tu, deputy director-general, Department of Academia-Industry Collaboration and Science Park Affairs (DAICSPA), MOST, remarked in her speech that the cabinet and all the ministries exert active efforts to drive changes to Taiwan's startup incubation policies in hopes of building a healthy environment that can foster a flourishing startup scene. To this end, MOST has launched programs that aim to guide startup teams across different stages of development by providing them counseling, accelerator services, or global partnership match-making. Gathering a myriad of outstanding startups, the event is proof that the policy goal is gradually becoming a reality. MOST will keep investing resources to optimize Taiwan's startup ecosystem.

Creating an ideal startup incubation environment

Commenting on iCAN's achievements in 2020, IAPS managing director Hank Huang noted that the program aims to commercialize academic research results and thereby fulfill MOST's goal to perfect Taiwan's startup ecosystem, drive a burgeoning startup scene, promote cross-campus collaboration and communication, boost foreign investments in Taiwan and accelerate industry development. Since July 2016, iCAN's efforts in promoting partnerships with business corporations and communication with international startup communities have successfully helped Taiwan's startups secure NT$450 million (US$15.94 million) worth of investments and orders from foreign and domestic enterprises. Specifically, in terms of partnerships with business corporations, iCAN brings in industry resources and provides tailored guidance every step of the way to enable startup teams to maximize their value while spurring the growth of existing corporations.

Huang added that operating on the core concept of refined guidance and targeted investment, iCAN implements a three-step process when incubating a startup. The first step is guided by industry mentors, wherein a number of CXOs and professional mentors with 20 to 30 years of experience working for publicly listed companies as well as four leading accounting firms provide one-on-one counseling to help assess the startup's technology, finance, operation and marketing strength. The second step is meeting with angel investors, wherein the startup team will meet with close to 100 angel investors, venture capitalists and corporate investors one by one, who with insight into specific industries will offer suggestions on the adjustments the startup team should make. The third step is president investment, wherein the startup team will present directly to the corporate presidents at iCAN events to gain partnership opportunities in the form of strategic investments, product R&D collaborations and/or precise sales channel development. Thirteen such events have been held over the past four years.

The biggest difference between what iCAN has been doing in 2020 and the past is that it is strengthening practical implementations such as collaborations with corporations, field testing and capital investments to accelerate startup growth. This part of iCAN's efforts further includes three aspects - engaging foreign investments, accelerating startup training and commercialization guidance. As of the end of November 2020, iCAN has held more than 500 refined counseling sessions, which were all planned with startup needs in mind. In each of these sessions, a group of corporate CXOs or professionals were selected based on an initial assessment of the startup team's needs. The selected mentors then provided suggestions from a wide range of perspectives including business operation strategies, analysis of market needs, core values, scaling growth, business and technology partnership matchmaking, multi-national finance planning and patent portfolio planning.

Aside from the tailor-made refined counseling sessions, iCAN has also organized more than 25 training series and 100 investment matchmaking events to connect startups with corporations, helping startups precisely target a market segment and accelerate growth by tapping industry resources, working with enterprises and following market mechanism. Through its four and a half years of efforts, iCAN's cross-campus program has incubated 99 startup teams from 53 participating universities, successfully bringing in nearly NT$400 million worth of third-party investment and NT$50 million worth of business partnership. According to Huang, iCAN has created a business environment that fosters startup growth in the most practical way. Feedbacks and evaluations from the group of close to 100 startups have been positive across the board. The response rate from the 2020 survey reached 77.7% and the overall average satisfaction rating was 4.4 stars.

Taiwan's vibrant startup scene

Recognized for their corporate health, market orientation, business progress, appeal to foreign and domestic corporations as well as potential as an investment target, six startup teams were awarded at the event. Among them, Sounds Great and CytoArm received the Most Promising Elite Award; Micro PC received the Fast Progress Award; YILI Railway Technology received the Domestic Firms' Favorite Award; Rovilus received the Foreign Firms' Favorite Award; and RedEye Biomedical received the Rising Star Investment Target Award. To encourage the teams to strengthen their product offerings and boost their operation efficiency, each of the awarded startups will have a chance to engage in a close partnership with a corporation.

The event also included product presentations by eight teams with promising potential selected from biomedical and healthcare, artificial intelligence (AI), IoT, green energy and smart machinery sectors. Their products demonstrate practicality and creativity. For example, LuminX has developed a one-stop cellular pharmacokinetics test platform for pre-clinical cellular pharmacokinetics evaluation of cell therapies. DeepMentor provides the DeepLog miniaturized electronics design automation tool that can shorten the time it takes to deploy edge devices for cloud-based AI systems. Moldintel proposes a cutting-edge cloud-based molding solution.

A total of 13 startup teams including the eight that gave presentations exhibited their products at the event and communicated with participating corporate executives and venture capitalists. Combining technology with field know-how, these teams have come up with products showing promising commercialization potential. For example, Lockists' scooter sharing platform allows members to share their motorcycles with other members without any intrusive modification. Neopower Technologies provides highly customized single-source or hybrid power system controllers which not only engage in real-time communication with subsystems and modules but also operate on self-developed algorithms to deliver benefits in performance and cost-effectiveness. NetFay's devices and services for smartphone backup and home surveillance ensure privacy protection while enabling optimal user experience.

Chun-Yi Tu, deputy director-general, Department of Academia-Industry Collaboration and Science Park Affairs, MOST (third from the right in the first r

Chun-Yi Tu, deputy director-general of DAICSPA (front, third from right) and IAPS managing director Hank Huang (front, third from left) at 2020 iCAN X TTA Batch#2 Demo Day
Photo:Digitimes, December, 2020