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(Editor’s note: This is a sponsored article, which means it’s independently written by our editorial team but financially supported by another organisation, in this case, EIT ICT Labs. If you would like to learn more about sponsored posts on Tech.eu, read this and contact us if you’re interested in partnering with us.)

I have to admit I’d never heard about EIT ICT Labs until recently. Or maybe I did, but forgot about it because of its horrendous name. But what the organisation lacks in the creative naming department, it makes up for in terms of usefulness for European tech startups.

EIT ICT Labs bills itself as a ‘European open innovation organisation’, but more accurately it is a network that consists of some of Europe‘s leading companies, universities and research institutions in the field of information and communication technologies (Philips, SAP, Nokia, BT, F-Secure etc.).

How does that concern you as a startup? Well, perhaps not directly, but you might want to take a very close look at the Idea Challenge the organisation is kicking off today.

The Idea Challenge is basically EIT ICT Labs’ contest to reach out, identify and support the best (read: fastest-growing, innovative) digital startups in Europe that are poised to scale up.

If that applies to your startup, then consider applying for the pan-European contest – the call for applications opens today and will stay open until 6 July.

What’s in it for you (if you get in)?

– Up to €40,000 in cash (no strings attached)
– Access to EIT ICT Labs’ 130 partners (perhaps your next partners, customers or investors)
– Support for business acceleration in Europe and beyond
– Free co- working space (from Stockholm to Brussels to Milan)
– Support from EIT ICT Labs’ marketing and communication experts

These are the eight over-arching topics that you can apply for:

– Health & Wellbeing
– Smart Spaces
– Cyber-Physical Systems
– Future Cloud
– Cyber Security and Privacy
– Internet of Things
– Urban Life and Mobility
– Smart Energy Systems

Per topic, 10 finalists will pitch in front of a jury in a series of eight finals, taking place in Autumn 2015.

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Scaling up

Last year’s edition of the Idea Challenge focused on early-stage startups, but this year EIT ICT Labs is zooming in on so-called ‘scale-ups’, CEO Willem Jonker says:

“The strength of EIT ICT Labs lies in our pan-European ecosystem. We support fast-growing startups that are typically already being noticed in their home country; we help them scale up their business quickly across Europe and beyond.”

There are a couple of criteria (max. five years in existence, less than €1 million raised, incorporated in one of the EU’s 28 member states, proven traction and more) but you can read about the guidelines upon applying for the contest (which, in 2015, more than 1500 teams did).

Stephane Gantchev, a partner at the LAUNCHub seed fund in Bulgaria, is a fan:

“Last year, EIT ICT Labs did a call for startups in the CEE/SEE region and it was great for us, as two LAUNCHub portfolio startups were selected and participated in their program. It turned out to be a positive and very valuable experience for both startups.

It was a great combination: some cash (always good, a startup needs any breathing room they can get) and advice in the areas of sales and business development – arguably the most difficult to figure out in the early days. EIT ICT Labs has opened doors for both our teams, and they are still in touch with their contacts today.”

Previous Idea Challenge laureates include Tinnitracks, Undagrid, Sentryo, ICE Gateway and Guide Me Right. We’ll be highlighting some of them in the near future, but in the meantime you should really check out whether Idea Challenge could be another step to world domination for your startup.