Venture Challenge evaluated to be highly effective and efficient

The LifeSciences@Work Venture Challenge is an instrument of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. As the Venture Challenge subsidy module expires in 2025, it is up to the ministry to assess whether and how the program should continue. Therefore, an evaluation was conducted by an independent, external party, Birch. The evaluation report contains an analysis of the past 15 years of the Venture Challenge. This article outlines the highlights of the 52 pages full report that was presented to the Dutch Parliament on March 12, 2024 together with the announcement by Minister Micky Adriaansens to extend the program with another 5 years.


Many scientific discoveries never reach the market because researchers lack the knowledge and experience to commercialize them or because investors hesitate to fund projects lacking a clear business case. The Venture Challenge aims to bridge this gap by developing robust business cases with researchers, specifically in the Life Science & Health sector, to facilitate bringing their scientific discoveries to market.

Main outcome of the evalution

Over the past 15 years, the Venture Challenge has built a significant track record. The program has many success stories and had a major impact on the utilization of scientific research results: 145 companies have emerged from 201 projects. Together these companies have raised more than €600 Million and gerenated more that 1000 new jobs. Surveys and interviews indicate that without the Venture Challenge, this would not have happened. The program contributed to raising investment and reducing time to market. In addition, the limited use of government resources, compared to the high impact produced by the participating projects is a pivotal strong point. In conclusion: the instrument is highly effective.

Some of the highlights mentioned

Entrepreneurial skills:
Survey results indicate that a large majority of participants (88%) believe that the program has strengthened their entrepreneurial skills. Additionally, most participants feel they have gained knowledge about the opportunities and risks (85%), as well as the feasibility of their future ventures (86%). They view the Venture Challenge as a crucial step toward commercialization. Overall, participants credit the program with helping them develop robust business plans and gain insight into the commercial viability of their ventures.

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Connecting with investors:
Raising investment during the program is not a goal in itself. However, the process of considering potential investments, engaging with investors, and accessing different networks has added significant value for participants. Several interviews revealed that introductions to relevant investors and experts during the Venture Challenge program led to subsequent investments in later stages of the ventures  Additionally, survey results indicate that 88% of respondents have interacted with one or more investors. Ultimately, investments were made in 52% of the projects/companies after the program.

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Unique program:
According to former participants and experts, the Venture Challenge is  perceived as unique, particularly in terms of maturity and professionalism . Similar programs are described as qualitatively inferior in interviews compared to the Venture Challenge . The added value of the Venture Challenge program lies in the professional guidance provided in formulating a business case, gaining insight into feasibility, and finding investors. Additionally, unlike the Venture Challenge, some incubators/accelerators may request a percentage of equity in exchange for participation

In interviews with former participants , the coaching aspect emerges as a highly significant aspect of the Venture Challenge program.  Participants value the personalized guidance and genuine attention given to their projects. The coaching sessions in the program are particularly highly regarded. In the survey, 99% strongly agree or agree that the sessions are beneficial. The survey also indicates that 98% of former participants strongly agree that the coaches are knowledgeable.


Continue funding the Venture Challenge program
Based on the analyses, it is concluded that the Venture Challenge program is highly effective and efficient. Coupled with the finding that it is legitimate for the government to invest in the program, it is advised to continue funding the Venture Challenge program.

Explore whether it is possible to delegate the selection and assessment of participants to the coaches.
This shifts NWO's responsibility from the level of individual projects to the program as a whole and can save on implementation costs. The current approach is feasible, but if there is a need to save on implementation costs and increase flexibility and speed of execution, consideration could be given to limiting NWO's responsibility to the program as a whole and not for each selected project and team. NWO can oversee the quality of the program beforehand and afterwards, and the procedures to be followed in the assessment. The responsibility for the selection of individual projects and teams can then lie with a committee consisting of coaches, supplemented by an independent member or chair. This could make the program more efficiently organized.

If deal flow permits, consider an additional round, but the group of participants per program should not be increased.
The maximum number of participants in a round is currently six and should not be increased further. The current group size is ideal for participants, and increasing the number of participants would decrease quality. If deal flow from universities allows, an additional round would be a good option.

Provide financial leeway to work on the succession of coaches in the VC program.
The quality of the program is related to the quality of the coaches and the experience coaches have in guiding startups. Since it is certain that the current coaches will not always continue, it is recommended to provide financial leeway to add one extra person to the team to gain knowledge and prepare to keep the program running after the current coaches.

Decision on extending the Venture Challenge
Based on the positive evaluation of the Venture Challenge, the minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, Micky Adriaansens, has announced to the Dutch Parliament to extend the Venture Challenge program with another 5 years to January 2030. Meanwhile the recommendations are being investigated.




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