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“A lot of today’s technology makes us incredibly lazy.” According to John van de Laar, project manager from the Sport & Technology cluster, one of the sixteen parties in the Vitality Living Lab. Which is a four-year project that was started to seduce people to be healthy and active, Van de Laar explains. “There is a lot of technology in this region that we can use to make people more active. We make a difference by working together.” The Vitality Accelerator Program, an activity of the Vitality Living Lab, brings six startups have been prepared for their next step. During their closing meeting, on the first spring day of the year, the six startups present their “journey”.

“A lot has happened in the last ten weeks. There has been laughter, tears have fallen, new insights have emerged. Each startup has its own story. It is nice to see where they stand at the moment.” The six startups were selected during the event Vitality Pitch Stop last September and followed an intensive programme for ten weeks. “Together we created a kind of heartbeat: a workshop on Tuesdays, weekly coaching and Friday the one-on-one sessions.” One of the most important lessons: who will ultimately pay for your innovation?

Like Ellie Karssemakers van Wanderwatch, she had a first that afternoon: she and her partner Anton de Nijs officially enter the after-school market with their product. Three years ago, when their mission, to get children off the couch started, the watch, which allows children to play interactive games outside, is on the shelves of a large toy retail chain and is available through their own website. “But more money is really needed to be able to ‘fly’.” Karssemakers and De Nijs want to enter the business to business market and therefore they participated in the programme. “Selling to the consumer yield much quickly.” After ten weeks there is a clear proposition for the childcare market and in the coming weeks, there will be conversations with one of the largest childcare organisations in the Netherlands. “The one-on-one coaching was incredibly valuable to us. Occasionally it made us falter but in a positive way. We are stronger than ever and we are really ready for it. Even though we will really miss those Friday mornings.”

Also, Mark Smits, from Swimm, had to come out of his comfort zone during the programme. Van de Laar: “Mark is someone who knows exactly what he wants. ‘Well balanced’ was what his personal profile said. Occasionally we did get him stagging.” Smits finds talking in public for a group terrible, he tells. That’s different when you talk to him one on one. Enthusiastic he keeps on talking. “From now on, I will take every opportunity to speak in public. Just tell my story about the small pools.” For years Smits has been selling swimming pools, that made him come up with a kind of treadmill for swimming. A small pool with resistance which enables you to really swim. During the programme, the entrepreneur discovered that his small pools can be interesting for the hotel and care sector. “We are mainly in the private market, and there 30,000 euros for a swimming pool is a lot of money. Within the hotel and care sector, there is more readiness to invest.” In two weeks’ time, he will have his first meeting with a care organisation about a concrete project.

Modest setup

The accelerate programme distinguishes itself from other programmes by its small and modest set-up, Van de Laar says. “We concentrate more on the startup itself and adjust the programme to the entrepreneur needs. Many starting entrepreneurs have a job and can’t make themselves full time available for ten weeks to participate in this programme. That is why we have developed a programme which makes it possible to combine the two.” The strength of the programme also lies in the cooperation within the Cluster Sport & Technology, the initiator of the Vitality Living Lab project. In this cluster, companies, sports field labs, knowledge institutions and governments work together continuously for a vital and sporting society. Van de Laar: “The workshops, coaching and one-on-one’s are nearly all filled by people from that cluster.” Arno Hermans and Victor Beerkens of SporteXperience, for example, gave workshops on business validation, among other things. And there were workshops from Imec about product development. Critical questions during the one-on-one’s came, besides those of Van de Laar, from Brigitte Musters, director Sportservice Noord-Brabant, cluster manager S&T René Wijlens, Piet van der Wielen of Brainport Development, Roald van der Vliet, manager Innosport Lab de Tongelreep and financial expert Jan Hoefnagels of Vertus. Mutsers was also a coach: “In those ten weeks, you really create a bond with each other. It’s not just about the adding value and applicability of the innovation. You also get to see personal things and struggles.”

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Those ten weeks are long enough, Van de Laar says. “It is hard work for the entrepreneurs. Today is also a party, just let off steam.” A ten-week ‘fade-out’ follows, in which Smits, for example, prepares his meetings with the care organisation. All workshops have been evaluated. Just like the coaching and the one-on-ones. The outcome was, for example, that there should be more room to learn from each other as startups and sometimes the workshops were like a lecture. But the most important lesson for Van de Laar is “that, as a startup and as guidance, you have to go one hundred per cent, otherwise it won’t work. There is no middle ground, no half work.” During the course, for example, two startups dropped out. Van de Laar: “They had planned to launch their product at the same time or were abroad for a longer period of time.”

Another project within the Vitality Living Lab is a research on the mobility issues in the Eindhoven district De Bennekel. These issues are input for the next version of the accelerator programme. “We will issue a targeted call to the solutions of a problem. In this way, the programme works on a sustainable system that leads to innovations for the ‘vitality problem’”, Van de Laar explains. After the summer, Van de Laar hopes to start with a new group of entrepreneurs.

Participating startups and innovation teams in the programme are:

Thermostar BV / Swimm:

Swimming in a small pool with a counterflow controlled by a program or sensors.


Wanderwatch combines the fun of video games with all the good things of outdoor games.

Kinetic Analysis:

Smart textile that registers biomechanics and physiological parameters.

InMotion VR/ Corpus VR:

Development of a sensor suit for the trunk and upper extremities that is linked to a Virtual Reality glasses so that exercises can be done for head, neck, shoulder, arms, and trunk.

KNUBB e-motion:

Platform for training in fitness, physiotherapy, and rehabilitation

InnoSportLab De Tongelreep:

Swimming lessons of the future

The Cluster Sports & Technology is the driving force behind the Vitality Living Lab project. The other partners are: TU/e, Fontys, Holst/IMEC, Brainport Development, BOM, GBO, SSNB, Sport eXperience, S&T Business Club and 6 FieldLabs: InnoSportLab Sport and Move!, InnoSportLab De Tongelreep, FieldLab Moving in Education, FieldLab Adapted Sports, PECE Care FieldLab Hockey and SportMax FieldLab Cycling. The total investment for this project amounts to almost 4.9 million euros, half of which is financed by the European regional innovation programme OP-Zuid. The other half is financed by the partners themselves.

Photos © Cluster Sport & Technology