New ICT start-up programme first of its kind

Fontys Information and Communication Technology
Students who start a company during their studies AND get the chance to graduate with their own start-up. That is already very special. But Fontys ICT's ambitions go further. From next week, alumni will be able to make use of a workplace for up to a year after graduating and be brought into contact with the business world. This is called the SPARC Start-Up Programme.

For years, Fontys ICT has given students the opportunity to graduate in their own start-up (graduation+). This has led to a number of successful start-ups. Now the student start-up programme has been professionalised. It has some unique features, which are new in HBO/University country; students can already intake during their studies and graduate within their company. After their studies, they can apply for the Sparc Incubator programme, this gives them the opportunity to continue working on their product within Fontys ICT for 6 to 12 months. The IP (intellectual property) is and remains entirely the StartUp's. They get a physical workplace at Strijp TQ, a Fontys pass and they can use Fontys facilities. In addition, they may (must) set and supervise assignments (challenges) for our third- and fourth-year students. In this way, students remain involved in Fontys ICT even after graduation, both physically in the Open Innovation Lab, as stakeholders of meaningful education and as part of the regional business community. Friday 13 October at 9am was the 'formal opening' at Strijp TQ4.2.


Bron wrote the following article about it:

Students who start a company during their studies ánd get the chance to graduate with their own start-up. That is already very special. But Fontys ICT's ambitions go further. From next week, alumni will be able to make use of a workplace and be brought into contact with the business world up to a year after their graduation. This is called the Sparc Start-Up Programme.

Fontys ICT's graduation programme has produced a number of successful start-ups in recent years, such as Studio Krom, Beyont, Debugged, One-Button, Openmaze and MRR Drones. During their study programmes, students are guided by lecturers and put in touch with companies in the region. But after graduation, they have to do it all by themselves. Fontys ICT believes that a start-up is more likely to succeed if there is a bottom line.

That prompted the creation of the SPARC Start-Up Programme, says Eric Slaats, education expert at Fontys ICT. "Sparc unites companies from the region, the so-called Partners in Innovation, which provide assignments to third- and fourth-year Fontys ICT students. The idea behind the new start-up programme is that after graduation, students stay in Fontys ICT's Open Innovation Lab in Eindhoven for about a year as Sparc Start-ups."

Like the other Sparc members, these Sparc Start-ups are clients for students. They are offered their own workplace and guided to maximise their chances of success. These start-ups do have to meet a number of conditions, Slaats stresses. "Only the best ideas and entrepreneurs qualify for the programme. And they must of course be enrolled at the Chamber of Commerce, have a business plan, customers and a product."

Unique programme
The knife thus cuts both ways. "Fontys ICT would like to be a knowledge partner in the region and help the business community innovate. At the same time, the business community contributes to education innovation," Slaats said. "Our start-up programmes are unique. No incubator has a physical location for start-ups within study programmes and focuses on students who can start working as start-ups even before graduation." Moreover, he says, the programme enriches education for ICT graduates because the start-ups as partners lay down authentic challenges for students. "So double win-win."

Max van Hattum, Ruben Fricke and Niek van Dam of Openmaze are the first alumni to enter the Sparc Start-Up programme. On Friday 13 September, they signed an agreement during the formal opening of the incubator programme. But actually, they have already started. Five students are currently working for their start-up, which provides companies with accessible and practical artificial intelligence (AI).


The alumni had the corporate identity designed by students and put issues to them that the trio does not get around to themselves. "This way, we can focus on our core business and still continue developing our start-up," says Max. The alumnus is very happy to participate in the Sparc Start-Up Programme with Openmaze.

"What we really liked about the student start-up programme was that we could make mistakes. Because what you do for your business is part of education, it has no consequences as long as you meet your study progress. You can just make adjustments. In the Sparc programme, we also feel that safety. There is coaching available, a network of companies and students, workplaces and we get to use all the facilities here. As a result, we have a longer lead time and feel less pressure." 

Sieuwe Elferink is also interested in the Sparc Start-Up programme once he completes his master's. He says he already benefits greatly from the student start-up programme in setting up and further developing MRR Drones, which makes autonomously flying drones. "For students, it is an opportunity to work with drones and I can use their allocation very well," he says.


Both Openmaze and MRR Drones and some six other start-ups have their workplace on the education floor of the Fontys Innovation Lab at Strijp TQ in Eindhoven. This makes the threshold to talk to each other low. "During the holidays, I spent another half-hour talking spontaneously with a student," Sieuwe says. "We inspire and encourage each other here."

The student start-up programme now has about 150 partner companies, the Sparc programme about 30. There are more assignments than students, Slaats knows. That is why Fontys ICT has the ambition to roll out the start-up programmes further. "First within Fontys, then in the Netherlands and the rest of the world."