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Agfa logo, Client TRIBO

Innovation track AGFA

Matching corporate & start-up

TRIBO is the innovation spin-off by Netwerk Ondernemen, specialized in matching corporates with start-ups. For the Agfa-Gevaert Group, CEO Gert Gijbels and Head of Innovation Francesco Cilurzo sought out new collaboration opportunities between the multinational and promising start-ups, both within their own network and beyond. This story of scoping, matchmaking and mentoring provides a blueprint for future collaborations.

Business opportunities outside defined divisions

Janus Leenders, Project Leader Innovation at Agfa: “Our department focuses on bringing in and evaluating new ideas to identify and assess the value of potential business opportunities. For example, we developed a method to personalize packaging for online orders. Imagine messages like “Happy birthday, Jan.” Although this idea didn’t fit within any of Agfa’s own divisions—even though offset printing is one of our domains—we didn’t want to let it go. So, we set up a spin-off to develop a software platform that made such printing possible.”

All opportunities that don’t fit into a division of Agfa are directed to Innovation. This is a large number. Over the past two years, we have narrowed our focus to a few areas where we want to expand. These areas are in line with the strategy we have set out for Agfa. We began to ask ourselves: are there interesting companies in the start-up community that would like to collaborate with us? As a result, we approached Netwerk Ondernemen.”

No to pigeonholing, yes to focus

Francesco Cilurzo is Head of Innovation at TRIBO: “Agfa is a high-level chemical company and does not fit into a single category. It is involved in imaging, healthcare, industry, and IT. When Netwerk Ondernemen connected with Janus and his team, it was evident that they were facing some difficulties. What areas did the company want to prioritize?

We always begin our co-creation processes with 1-on-1 intake interviews. During these, we talk to decision makers in the organization and ask them: what is the strategy of the department or the company? What do they want to focus on? What is the ideal outcome of a matching with a start-up or scale-up? It became apparent that not everyone was in agreement. There was still some work to be done.”

Janus Leenders: “It all began with defining our focus areas. With TRIBO’s guidance, we brought together our various visions and expectations, and crafted a shared vision. This made it clear which tech domain we wanted to pursue with a startup.”

Francesco Cilurzo: “We guided the process in a structured way. We made an overview of the topics our competitors are working on. Agfa, as a whole, doesn’t have an immediate competitor, but in the various divisions, the competition can be quite fierce. For example, the domains of energy transition, printed electronics, and medical imaging….Where does Agfa have a strong position? Which division could and should grow more? We also asked: for which new developments would cooperation with a start-up or scale-up be interesting? Could Agfa develop innovations in-house, or should they hire consultants?”

Francesco Cilurzo vierkant

Francesco Cilurzo: “We screened our own network and the wider start-up community to identify companies that aligned with Agfa’s focus areas. We didn’t issue an open call, as is often done. Instead, we specifically targeted start-ups and provided them with guidance and support throughout the process.”

From scope to matching

Francesco Cilurzo: “After that comes the scoping phase. We screened our own network and the wider start-up community. During this stage, we not only consider the advantages for the corporation, but also look for ways to provide value to the start-up. Start-ups often face specific issues, such as scaling and market penetration. If we can create a successful matching between them and a larger company, it can be a major step forward for them.”

“Once we find the ideal start-up to work with, how will the partnership unfold? What knowledge does Agfa expect? What ISO certifications or IP should the company present? What culture do we want? Which markets can be entered due to the matching? How will we work together? Do we want company shares or to inject capital? Who will retain the intellectual property?”

Janus Leenders: “Gert and Francesco identified 50 potential start-ups of interest and conducted a screening process. They evaluated each start-up’s purpose, the technology they were developing, and the potential for synergy with Agfa.”

Francesco Cilurzo: “That’s correct. The third step is matchmaking, where we ask the same questions about equity and cooperation. After a lot of conversations and research, we narrowed it down to a shortlist of 10 start-ups for Agfa to contact. We can search for a match in terms of technology and business, but there must also be a mental connection or shared mindset between the parties.”

A bit like dating

Francesco Cilurzo: “It’s a bit like dating: you may find someone who catches your eye, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll click. Even if you do feel an immediate connection, it may not last if your goals and aspirations don’t align. That’s how one of the three selected start-ups quickly dropped out. The expectations did not match. With a second party, the dating period lasted a little longer, but didn’t appear to be a good long term match. So after a thorough process, one great match remained.”

Janus Leenders: “One of the selected start-ups developed tech similar to Agfa’s, but catered to a different market. Despite their initial enthusiasm, they eventually lacked the commitment to make it work. We didn’t realize this until later on.”

Janus Leenders: “TRIBO’s process has been running for a year now, and it has been an incredibly exciting journey. Francesco and Gert have been great partners to work with. This process has become a blueprint for the future and a great learning experience. The scoping phase was especially important, as it gave us the structure to work in a progressive manner, rather than just bringing in start-ups.”

From matching to structural collaboration

Janus Leenders: “The journey with TRIBO has become a blueprint for the future and a great learning experience. The scoping phase was especially important.”

Gert and Francesco’s external expertise was extremely valuable. Their international network and familiarity with the start-up world were also beneficial. Working with a start-up as a corporate requires an understanding of their needs and the ability to be flexible. It’s clear that start-ups and corporates have different objectives, and this is especially evident when they collaborate.”

Francesco Cilurzo: “We continue to track Agfa and their selected start-up. What began as a one-time project has developed into a sustained partnership. Innovation is an ongoing process.

Janus Leenders: “We want to facilitate a consistent interaction between Agfa and start-ups. Netwerk Ondernemen is the mediator, without any ulterior motives. TRIBO is well-versed in the challenges start-ups face and understands what Agfa seeks. This creates a mutually beneficial situation, with great potential for future collaboration.”

Whether you’re a SME, a family business, a custom business, or a corporate: collaborating with start-ups can bring you many benefits. Unlock your innovation potential with the help and guidance from our experts.

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