How four incubators can help the next-gen innovative textile-tech startups become market-ready
We speak to the program manager of Swedish NEST on lessons learned from the first edition before this month’s unveiling of the new ventures to watch.
8 May 2023

Program manager Simon Hjelte (pictured above) describes NEST (New Entrepreneurship for a Sustainable Textile industry) as ”an innovative race” towards a sustainable textile- and fashion industry.

— We offer sector-specific growth environments for innovative startups in this field by primarily boot camps, business development programs, and activities for and by the community, he says.

We see quite many similar initiatives, what makes you so unique?

— I might irritate some of the other ones now but I would say that we act first and lobby in parallel. Breaking that down into parts, it means that we have a clear understanding about what this industry needs based on 200 years of doing business in the textile industry. This empower us to build alliances with the University of Textiles in Borås as well as industry companies, such as Gina Tricot, Kappahl, Sandqvist, Textilia, and Södra ONCE MORE, supporting and developing the concept through both know-how and monetary support.

— I would also argue that the combination of incubators developing and running the program — STING Stockholm, Borås INK, eXpression UMEÅ, and X plot LUND — makes our offering multi-competent across different sectors and industries. This results in a strong business development programme regardless of the startup’s needs and experience from a specific sector, where we come together and tailor a programme that suits the specific vertical. And we do this funded by public actors, such as VINNOVA (Sweden’s innovation agency, Ed’s note), which means that we don’t claim equity in the startups who join. What that means is a higher tolerance for innovation that is needed but not market ready and also makes it possible to halt support for startups who are not ’taking off’.

This is your second year running. Tell us about the first edition last year. And what did you learn from it?

— That first edition proved that we were cooking something that there is demand for. The number of applicants was high already last year and we came very close to all participants who joined the programme. Last year’s winners was RecoMended who has since moved on to incubation where we support them with business development on a weekly bases exploring how to best establish their offer of automated repairs on the market, says Hjelte. He continues:

— Last year, we made a mistake when we selected companies with too high requirements before they came to the bootcamp. It detracted from the value of community where things happen organically, so we have changed that for this year. We still have requirements for relevance and feasibility but somewhat lower in order to bring idea carriers together and see what happens when they meet. The boot camp for this year has already been completed during two days in March, so we have already proven that it was the right strategic choice. More than 70 individuals from over 40 companies participated and new collaborations have already been created that otherwise would never have come to life. The startups met with investors, marketing directors, CEOs, and researchers to discuss the future of the textile industry and all its subdivisions with a clear focus on sustainability. Pleasantly surprising was also the desire to get to know others in order to get ahead. There has long been a lack of an acceleration-like support product for innovators in fashion and textiles, and it has been clearly proven that it was needed. Happily, we have created it now.

NEST bootcamp.

What are the next steps here?

— We currently have 28 startups in a catapult program where business strategy for go to market is focus. Last week, 17 of them was in the city of Borås and workshopping together with a mutual goal of identifying synergies of value. Out of these startups, 20 at most, is given the opportunity to pitch their idea in front of a jury of expert panelists in the end of May. The winner will receive a grant and the most promising startups will be offered to move on to incubation together with RecoMended and others, says Hjelte. He adds:

— Sustainability needs to be integrated 360 in your organisation before 1 January 2025, so if you haven’t started with any sort of pivot, you are in a rush — and these startups might be able to help.

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