By Thierry Van Landegem - September 18, 2018

Excitement is in the air. We just launched two new incubations at the MLAB. Happy faces you would say; yes, but also some nervousness. Happy because folks are on the incubation team and excited about the upcoming journey, but also nervous because they don’t know where that journey will bring them, where they will be in three months.


MLAB is a company builder born out of Metalsa, a private, global, tier 1 automotive supplier. Our goal is to explore opportunities for growth in the broad and ever-changing mobility and manufacturing space. We literally source ideas from everywhere, and ideas that are relevant and promising, get incubated.


Our incubation follows three distinct but overlapping phases: a customer desirability phase, a product / solution validation phase, and a business viability phase. Nothing new you will say, but a tough nut to crack nevertheless. The first phase that both teams have just started is about customer development: finding out who the customers are, what their problems and their deep needs are. Because we want to build solutions that solve critical customer needs. Once known (and there can be many needs) the teams will design a solution that solves the identified problem during the second phase. In practice there is not really a strict first or second phase since we iterate between need and solution to get it right. Once that product – need fit is found we enter the third phase where we will design the business model: how the money flows to become a profitable business.


The two incubations we just started are in the manufacturing domain. The first focuses on building a low volume flexible manufacturing capability for structures used across various industries. The second incubation is a low volume contract assembly capability for electric vehicles. Both incubations explore adjacent markets close to Metalsa’s market: building structures for vehicles in large volumes.


For each incubation we assembled a multi-disciplinary team with an entrepreneur in residence and subject matter experts. We basically follow the approach first who then what, but with a slight twist. The twist is that we have a rough idea of what we want to do which allows us to find subject matter experts in the relevant area. Once we have the experts grouped in multi-disciplinary teams we let them find their way to determine the exact what. And honestly, the road from the rough idea to the exact what can bring the team to unexpected areas. The idea can pivot into something totally different. Our previous incubation has proven that. It is now a successful startup sensai augmenting productivity in manufacturing environments.


Both incubation teams now have started a three-month journey that will culminate in a business pitch to our investment committee, a group composed of the company owners and external VCs. And if successful, the incubation morphs into a real startup through a seed investment round. And that, that is another incentive for the team: an opportunity to become a co-founder of an exciting startup!


Stay tuned!

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