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A Spark for Startups

The University of Freiburg provides incentive for startups with its Startinsland competition

Freiburg, Mar 08, 2017

The difficult path from developing an idea to starting your own business can feel like climbing Freiburg's popular landmark mountain, the Schauinsland. That's why the University of Freiburg is hosting its Startinsland competition this year for the third time. Unlike the steep and winding path up the Schauinsland, the competition helps to make the path to starting your own business smoother and easier.

At the end of February 2017, the University's Startup Office officially kicked off the Startinsland competition with a Gründerzünder evening. The goal of this event was to spark new startups by providing information and the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs and listen to their stories. Five startup founders, including an alumnus from the University of Freiburg, gave animated and entertaining talks about the sometimes rocky road to building their own business.

From the lecture hall to the executive chair: At the Gründerzünder event, entrepreneurs talked about how they started their own business and gave beginners valuable tips. Photo: Thomas Kunz

Martin Kasemann, who has a PhD in physics and is "the guardian of millions of solar cells," developed his business idea based on his doctoral thesis. His plan was to improve each step in the production of different measuring systems, allowing reliable assessments to be made about the quality of the final product early on in the expensive production process. This makes it possible to identify and remove defective parts from production at an early stage. It can therefore save huge sums of money, especially in the production of solar cells, Kasemann said. The Startup Office helped him to get an EXIST research transfer grant from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, which he and his team used to turn this idea into a business.

Emotions involved

Even so, the CEO of the new company INNIRION had to tackle some large hurdles that he didn't quite feel prepared for, he said. When they were developing the team, for example, there was a lot of friction that Kasemann hadn't encountered before in his previous projects. "When starting a spinoff, there are a lot more emotions involved, so you have to be prepared for conflicts." The team has changed quite a bit since the beginning of the EXIST project. There was also a learning curve regarding what customers want. "In the beginning, we spent too much time developing in the lab, and we tried to keep everything secret until we were done with a demonstrator. That was a mistake, because we realized that our customers wanted entirely different features in many cases." He added that there are many difficulties that you have to overcome with a startup, and for that you need courage and persistence. The company founded in 2016 has since made its first turnover and has important major companies for customers.

Dr. Benedikt Link, another entrepreneur, didn't get his idea for his startup in the lab; instead, he got it while visiting Sweden, where he became interested in the progressive fundraising models in Scandinavia. In Germany, in contrast, fundraising is often done the old-fashioned way. "If you're a school class, youth group, or a sports club, you have only two ways to raise money: You can have a waffle sale or a cake sale," he said simply. That's why he decided to focus on a new way of doing things and named his company Neue Masche ("new threads"). He launched an online platform for raising donations for personal projects, like going on a class field trip, going to summer camp, or attending the high school graduation dance. "At the time, I was under 30 years old and I was working for a major business consulting company, but I wasn't really enjoying my job anymore. I wanted to do something that gave more purpose in life," Link said. "People were surprised when I told them about my plans." He offers the following advice for potential startuppers: "You have to be able to explain your idea in one sentence. For example: 'Sell shoes online: Zalando.'" Also, it's a good idea to get some feedback early on "to get the answers to questions that you'd otherwise get two years too late." Link took his own advice back when he started, and he talked about his business idea with the Startup Office.

If you have a business idea of your own that may not even be fully developed but is just an inkling, the Startup Office and the Startinsland competition can help. You don't have to wait; it's time to get started.

Alexander Ochs

Startinsland 2017

The University of Freiburg's Startinsland competition has two phases. For the first phase, all you need is a three-page, written presentation of your idea. The deadline is April 23, 2017. For the second phase, which begins in June, participants have to hand in a 20-page business plan by October 1, 2017. The best submissions for each phase will be given an award. Prizes include software licences, a workplace in an incubator, or cash prizes worth €25,000 in total value. The competition is open to anyone interested and can be entered at any time.


Photo: BurgerDesign