IT start-ups often emerge from academic research grounds where software development is primarily driven by innovative research. Software quality dimensions such as maintenability, portability and evolvability are not a priority and are often dependent on the personal background of the involved researchers. This deficit of quality (or technical debt) generally reveals itself when transitioning from research to company exploitation.
In this paper, we report about our work of assessing and advising IT-startups hosted in a pool of Belgian incubators. In addition to the innovative nature of each projects, the incubator strategic board is also taking software quality into account as part of the global evaluation of the future company potential. We report here the observed quality practices, common flaws, and specific recommendations related to a sample of 15 startups which were evaluated over the past three years. We also present important activities to push quality upstream in the R&D process together with academic institutions.