Behind the Scenes: Interview with Design Terminal
X-Europe project is run by five partners - F6S, TNW, TechChill, Design Terminal, and Growth Tribe. For you to get to know the X-Europe team better, we have created a series of articles where we interview main people running the X-Europe machine. From Design Terminal László Jónás, Head of Business Development and Balázs Takács, Head of Communications and Client Service told us why it is important for them to shine the light on deeptech startups and how was it to organize an online summit on agritech.
Tell us more about the very beginning of X-Europe - the proposal, setting up the team, the excitement, and your very first impressions.
László Jónás, Head of Business Development
László Jónás: Design Terminal has been looking for opportunities to help deeptech startups in Europe for a long time now. As the leading innovation agency in Central Europe, we organize incubation programs in twelve countries and since 2014 we have worked with more than a thousand startups. Based on this experience, we felt that deeptech startups were neglected a bit unfairly compared to the ones who provide some kind of service to users. The research sector is under-represented among startups and we wanted to help them. Therefore, we were very pleased to be able to work with the X-Europe team and to help create a program that can make progress in this area. We were really happy when the consortium approached us with this initiative. After many months of working together, such a concept has been created that all partners could be proud of.
Balázs Takács, Head of Communications and Client Service
Balázs Takács: When we, together with our communications and project management team learned that we were going to participate in a Europe-wide program that would have an impact on the entire ecosystem, we instantly began to feel very excited. We felt that this was the next step in the many years of work we had done in Hungary and in several European countries. A great step to connect the Baltics, the Visegrad region and the startup scenes of Western Europe. This was our first EU project, so obviously we had less information and knowledge about the area at the time. The excitement was also beacuse of that.
This year has brought a lot of challenges and the project has turned out more virtual than planned. Tell us more about the challenges you face and how you tackle them!
LJ: We spent a lot of time planning the project, so it was very difficult to adjust mentally to the fact that we wouldn’t have the chance of a physical experience. But at the same time, we thought that way we could connect the startups with more partners. We basically had to do this virtual shift with our own projects, so the process slowly became a part of our lives. Besides the negative side effects of this pandemic, we concentrated on being able to invite more speakers and investors, without geographical boundaries, so we could channel more actors into the X-Europe program. This is undoubtedly an advantage in a difficult situation. We tried to focus on this element. I think both startups and partners have adapted to the situation well and in an openly manner. But we do hope to have the opportunity to meet physically during the project period though.
BT: As we, at Design Terminal are primarily dealing with projects of innovation, we are constantly trying to find new ways of being innovative, thriving and adapting - even without a covid situation. Immediately after the pandemic had a particularly severe impact on our lives, we had to step very quickly onto this new path. Our flagship Mentoring Program that supports startups, had to be completely redesigned within just a few weeks. Also, we were just preparing for a Demo Day at the time to close our program with the National Chamber of Agriculture. We planned that as a live event but had to switch to virtual format in 5 days. In the end, it became a great success. We have gained a lot of experience and knowledge in recent months when it comes to online events, mentoring and organizing events. We tried to see the opportunity in the situation and get the best possible solution out of it. The motto of Design Terminal has been „Optimists first” for years now. This has now helped our attitude towards this current situation. We love challenges, learning new things, growing. I almost have to say that in a sense it even came in handy that in addition to our everyday work, the situation brought refreshment and new formats to us.
This project involves a lot of teamwork not only within the Design Terminal’s team but also other teams across all Europe - tell us more about the teamwork - what's working and what could be improved?
LJ: I must say that the cooperation with the partners in the consortium is extremely easy. Project managers put together and lead the project perfectly. We have a great selection of partners. This is the only way we can work effectively during so many obstacles and difficulties these times. It is an extremely complex task to keep in touch with each other and more than 25 startups per cohort, the mentors assigned to them, the press and other actors in the program. But since we laid the foundations firmly in the beginning, we defined the processes, we distributed the responsibilities very well, everything goes smoothly. Online community building is difficult to solve, and perhaps all of us should work on this as it is a new field for everyone. We all strive to make participating startups feel part of a community.
X-Europe is all about helping startups - tell more about what that means to you.
BT: In addition to what László mentioned at the beginning of the interview about strengthening the visibility of deeptech startups, we are very happy to be part of a larger European community and to be able to help our own region and the companies here. We feel that with the help of X-Europe, our opportunities have also expanded and we can also help the development of our own region. In the previous cohort and also now, we talked to the Hungarian teams about their expectations and experiences in the program. Without exception, they stressed how much they look forward to the opportunity for a wider network of contacts, the chance to step into new markets and meet several new actors in those markets. We are happy to be a part of this and to be able to help them.
Design Terminal hosted/will host the Future of AgriTech Summit during the project. Tell more about your experience while planning a virtual summit.
LJ: It was a pleasure to see speakers with a valuable reputation and expertise accepting our invitation from all over the world. 23 speakers from 14 countries “arrived” to the summit. This also shows the importance of the X-Europe project. We were very pleased with the high amount of interest towards the conference. We have tripled the expectation of the consortium towards us. We had 14 conversations in different formats: 1on1 and panel discussions, debates and Q&As. We seated representatives of ESA and NASA at a mutual virtual table. We also received positive feedback from consortium partners and several speakers. I think we did everything we could to provide an experience that, while virtual, still successfully channels the values we had planned to channel in physical space. We hope that all participants and viewers felt this way. In the future, Design Terminal will have a lot to do with European projects, so it was good to experience that we can tackle similar tasks successfully.
BT: We looked forward to this, because we have been working with the National Chamber of Agriculture for several years in the field of agricultural innovation, so this territory is close to us. Accordingly, we have set high-quality expectations for ourselves. It was important for us to have credible professionals at the event who bring their own views and opinions from all over the world. I think we’ve put together an exciting agenda with a variety of themes and colorful personalities. We are glad that for the time of this summit, the attention of countless actors in the agricultural sector was focused on Budapest and Design Terminal, and thus also the X-Europe program. It was a great experience for me to work with both the organizing team and the speakers and moderators. We set up the location of the conference during the weekend before the event, so that only the final rehearsal would remain for Monday. A 10-member technical staff worked with us. We had a lot of discussions in the weeks before the conference about what the moderators and speakers will talk about and how the online event will be as exciting as possible. I am proud that we have made the online show a spectacle worth watching and that everything went smoothly. Of course, we've published all the discussions on our Youtube channel, so anyone can check it if they somehow missed it:
The project is ongoing - tell more about your expectations and what you're about to pursue in the future!
LJ: Our main goal is to have long-lasting results from this work. Whether it’s our collaboration with partners or the opportunities of startups within the ecosystem. We hope that by launching this project, we will be able to create lasting values, strong companies, and worthy results that we can be proud of in the long run. And, of course, we hope to be able to launch more similar projects in the future.
BT: The two-year program is far from over, so there is plenty to look forward to. Personally, I’m supremely looking forward to cohorts dealing with space tech and smart cities. Deep down I hope that we will be the ones who can organize these summits. And that all difficulties will soon be over and that we will be able to meet in person with the consortium partners, the startups we are helping, and the speakers of the events. We can learn a lot from all of them.