The fifth edition of the Takeoff Seed Fund Awards (Tosfa) saw €100,000 being distributed between seven promising start-ups and proof of concept projects. This year’s increasing interest and sheer quality of entries marks another healthy milestone for the ground-breaking scheme initiated a few years ago between the Economy Ministry, the University of Malta’s Centre for Entrepreneurship and Business Incubation (CEBI) and Takeoff, the business incubator at the University.
Takeoff has evolved in these past five years to support enterprise by focusing on its core competence of guidance for the development of sustainable enterprise. Takeoff is no longer termed solely as an incubator but has developed beyond that – running both accelerator and catapult programmes.
The incubator programme operates on 45 core components critical for the success of a venture, while the accelerator programme delves into 125 components. The catapult goes further.
The strength in the University’s package of assistance is that the methods employed are the extract of detailed research and data gathering generated in 20 years of work conducted by the CEBI management. It is a honed model which has studied no fewer than 5,000 companies. The model for enterprise buildup employed at Takeoff has been proven to work. Last year Takeoff conducted close to 1,000 hours of mentoring with enterprise builders and there has been a great augmentation in the synergy between Takeoff and CEBI.
The application and judging criteria for the Tosfa awards have been refined to be aligned with the critical parameters required for enterprise success. The 39 applicants had to attend mandatory training prior to applying, to ensure that what is proposed is not simply a short-term project, but the germinating seed of an enterprise, one through which their association with Takeoff they will nurture, iterate and push for evolution. The final awardees subsequently underwent intense mentoring and pitch preparation.
The improvement in the quality of thought and presentation has been seen through better developed enterprise ideas, with clearer and pragmatic thinking applied to sustainability, and in turn the submission of quality applications was noted by the Tosfa management committee.
Takeoff currently has 19 incubatees, ranging from craft beer prototyping to blockchain application and a thriving in-house video game business. Today 52 per cent of incubatees in Takeoff are either a derivative of the successful Master’s in Knowledge Based Entrepreneurship (MEnt) course run by CEBI or are currently studying to become MEnts. From 2014 we have grown a community of over 100 trained entrepreneurs who have the formation to think about enterprise in a well-structured and logical manner. They are not gamblers or risk takers... they are trained risk-readers.
From 2014 we have grown a community of over 100 trained entrepreneurs who have the formation to think about enterprise in a well-structured and logical manner. They are not gamblers or risk takers... they are trained risk-readers
Takeoff is particularly proud of the University of Malta Racing Team, a resident student organisation within the incubator which has been mentored in the area of business plan development. The team has just attained their best result to date in the area of business planning, placing 11th from a cohort 72 University teams competing at Silverstone last week.
We are also very proud of Step Up For Parkinsons, a voluntary organisation, nurtured through Takeoff/CEBI that provides free therapy for Parkinson’s patients and their carers, established by a student when still an undergraduate at the University last year. Young people really are our future. Although it must be said that the oldest applicant for the coming Master’s in Entrepreneurship programme is 72 – enterprise creation really has no boundaries of time.
This year the University, through Takeoff, is once again working with 13 shortlisted applicant projects from the Malta Social Impact Awards. These social projects need to be converted, in thinking and function, to become sustainable social enterprises, and will be undergoing very intensive mentoring in the next 12 weeks in prepraration for a final presentation in November.
Takeoff and CEBI are also involved with the Be the Change project with partners from Hungary, Italy, Germany and Slovenia, in engaging unemployed young people no longer in the education system to consider the essentials of enterprise.
Another international undertaking Takeoff and CEBI are participating in is the I Know project, where a proper understanding of enterprise buildup is being disseminated to Sicilian incubators and the universities of Messina and Enna Kore. This will culminate next year with the first edition of Med-Fest, an event similar to VentureFest pioneered by our very own Prof. Russell Smith, CEBI director, in his time at Oxford.
Entrepreneurs are made, not born, and we are committed to help create and grow young businesses. While brilliant ideas are essential, execution is key, and we guide our budding entrepreneurs to face reality with patience and persistence in the arduous implementation of that idea. The money allocated by the Ministry for the Economy supports strategic funding and to help push these ideas to the next level.
Watch this space – our entrepreneurs will soon have a part in the shaping of tomorrow’s economy.
Joseph Bartolo is manager, Takeoff Business Incubator, University of Malta.
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