Imec-Backed Fund Raises $131 Million for Hardware Startups

A venture capital fund backed by nanoelectronics and digital technologies research hub imec in Belgium has closed its first fund with $137 million in committed capital.

The fund aims to address a problem that has plagued European semiconductor and hardware research spinouts and startups for many years — the gap in growth funding.

Imec.xpand, an independent early-stage and growth fund that was initiated by imec, focuses on investing in hardware-driven nanotechnology innovation companies. It targets ambitious tech startups for which imec knowledge, expertise, and infrastructure can help support growth. It will engage with companies at an early stage, reserving sufficient financial resources to support the selected ventures from early stages of development all the way through the commercialization of their product.

Tom Vanhoutte, a partner at the fund, imec.xpand, told EE Times, “We want to be successful in innovation where hardware plays a key role. Hence, we are looking to invest in companies around the world that could benefit from collaboration with imec and its ecosystem.”

Vanhoutte said that the key cause of failure of hardware startups in the EU is under-financing, which doesn’t give them room for developing the technology and the business to sufficiently grow before having to look for capital again. “Our sweet spot is early-stage companies looking for about €2 to €2.5 million, and we expect to be investing up to about €10 million before the end of this year,” he said.

Launched in 2017 with the backing of imec and the Flemish government, the fund is managed by Peter Vanbekbergen, Frank Bulens, Cyril Vančura, and Tom Vanhoutte, who each have a background in entrepreneurial, venture capital, and business expertise.

Since then, imec.xpand has attracted international strategic and institutional investors like Samsung Electronics, BNP Paribas Fortis, Applied Materials, SK Hynix, Philips, the Brabant development company BOM, KBC Insurance, the Belgian federal investment company SFPI-FPIM, and several high-net-worth individuals and universities. Belfius Insurance, the Flemish investment company PMV, and KPN Ventures joined most recently.

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