Large public-funded R&D programs contain a host of projects and potential for developing start-ups. Several governance models have been suggested for this. The paper draws on startup-, R&D -, program- and portfolio management literature. The aim is to study how start-ups and R&D programs can interact, and to discuss whether publically governed R&D centers are instrumental for start-ups. The development and operation of an R&D center are seen as an emergent combination of organizational politics and learning processes. The case is a four-year ex ante longitudinal study of a development program aiming at making information standards for building products and processes. The standards encompasses relations between product components, design, production and operation processes and more. The research program involved four start-ups. The R&D center was mandated by government to an industry association. The study encompasses around 50 interviews, 20 meeting observations, and extensive document analysis. Through interviews with the start-up companies, it is studied how the companies developed and contributed, and what kind of challenges and opportunities the program and the start-ups faced during the program’s journey. A series of challenges occurred; recruiting project leaders, coordinating projects, continual stakeholder management, renewing strategy and vision, and securing progression. Central parts of the program were a collaboration with the start-up consultancy companies. This proved an efficient governance frame, assuring progression, agility and mediation of stakeholders’ interests. The R&D center’s aim and tasks were close to a market-ready business concept usable by the start-ups. Also, a relatively simple project-contracting model proved fruitful for them. However, the relation between the R&D center and the start-ups was ambiguous, and the start-ups would have preferred to deliver more projects. Also some young professionals, contributing to the R&D and prone to become entrepreneurs, did not do so. For them this center was a “no go” for start-up.