Aarhus StartupLab: becoming part of the business ecosystem in the city

Even though Aarhus is far behind Copenhagen in terms of inhabitants, tourism and economic activities, the city hosts a vibrant and quickly developing start-up scene that is comparable to the one in the capital. In a series of interviews, reportages and background articles, Jutland Station will explore this scene. As a kick-off: an interview with Mai Louise Agerskov, managing director at INCUBA A/S, responsible for the Aarhus StartupLab.

by Jesse Beentjes

The bright and open architecture of the new Navitas-building in the harbor of Aarhus provides shelter to one of the three locations of the StartupLab (the others being in Skejby and Katrinebjerg), a program offered by INCUBA, Denmark’s oldest science park, providing high-quality business locations and services. In a room with view on the (foggy) harbor, Mai Louise tells about the program.

What exactly is the aim of the StartupLab program?
‘To allow entrepreneurs, who have just started their businesses, to become part of the ‘ecosystem’ at one of our locations. When enrolling in the program they do not only get access to printing facilities and meeting rooms, but they are also incorporated in a genuine business-environment close to academia in which they can learn from other companies that have already outgrown the startup-phase, so that knowledge is being shared. This is not only done by working together of course, this is also facilitated by more social events and Friday bars as well. We also organize workshops, seminars and pitching workshops together with all our partners’

How long does the program last?
‘‘Eighteen months, during which the participants are being mentored as well by some of our 40 mentors, who are ready to help then in their business development. During this period, we hope that they will grow out of the startup-lab and can be included in the INCUBA-ecosystem on normal terms. By offering the startups these facilities at a relatively low price, we take a certain risk: there isn’t any profit from them. But it’s also an investment, not only for ourselves, as we hope that they will stick with us of course, but also to the business climate in the city.’

Is the StartupLab an outcome of the recent hype around startups?
‘No, the program has been there already for almost ten years. However, we’ve seen an increasing attention over the last couple of years: app-development is trending. The barriers for creating an app are not so high; the same goes for web-design and e-selling startups. However, we also have some startups in the program that focus on technological solutions.’

How would you define the climate for startups in Aarhus?
‘I think the size of the city is very important for that climate: people know each other, everything is close and easily reachable, which offers great chances for networking. The municipality is very supportive and innovative for startups.. Another important factor is the strong presence of the university: the IT-scene in the city is very much defined by the interlinkage of academia and business.’

What do you think of the internationalization of business in the city?
‘I think the fact that Aarhus will be European Cultural Capital next year has boasted some good initiatives, but we’re not there yet. When it comes to startups: I don’t think that international entrepreneurs that like to work with startups in different cities throughout the world would easily pick Aarhus. The competition is tough. But international students that come here and experience the environment can see some advantages of starting a business in Aarhus. In this connection I have to mention the fact that we do not have an international airport close by, that’s not helping us.’