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Nerves of Steel and Lots of Patience

Want to start your own business? Come visit the Startup Office

Freiburg, Mar 08, 2017

Nerves of Steel and Lots of Patience

Julian Köster. Foto: Ingeborg Lehmann

Successful spin-offs are becoming more and more important for universities. The Startup Office at the University of Freiburg has a team of seven people who help students, graduates/alumni, and all university members with starting their own business. Dr. Philipp Julian Köster has been in charge of the department since November 2016. Petra Völzing recently talked to him about the appeal of running your own business and the importance of technology and knowledge transfer for universities and for society as a whole.

Philipp Julian Köster. Photo: Ingeborg Lehmann

Mr. Köster, while you were at the University of Rostock, you launched a major business project in automated electrophysiology. What do people starting up their own business need in order to be successful?

Philipp Julian Köster: If you decide to run your own business, you first need nerves of steel and lots of patience. The startup phase is exhausting. You often don't know whether to laugh or to cry. You have to invest a lot of time and stay persistent, because it can take years until a business is running profitably. Success starts with a good idea, a sustainable business model, and secure funding. That's why it can be important to get some reliable investors who will fund the project. One of the ways we help with this is by hosting events where we bring investors and business founders together.

What is the appeal of running your own business, in your opinion?

It's fun to be able to design your own work environment and to build your own team. Being creative and having lots of ideas is more important than when you're an employee. Naturally, you're still dependent on the market and customers, but there are also many wonderful moments and times when you feel a sense of achievement. I also think it's extremely important for society that startups help to keep a diverse entrepreneurial culture alive, or even help it to emerge in some areas in the first place. There is a tendency for large companies to divide up the market between themselves. At the Startup Office, we want to counteract that.

How do you support University members who want to take this step?

Let's say some Ph.D. students are working on projects that have the potential to become business ideas, but they're not aware of it. It's up to their advisors to point this out. We keep an eye on the situation and stay in close contact with the different departments; we talk to them about the advantages of spin-offs, also for the teaching faculty. If someone decides to launch a business, we counsel the future entrepreneur and help them with all the steps that need to be taken. We can also advise them about what funding resources are available for what kinds of projects.

Do you focus mainly on the natural sciences?

No. In general, we support anyone who wants to start their own business and is or was a University member. This could even include someone who's dropped out and wants to set up an online shop. Their business idea doesn't necessarily have to be related to what they studied.

What other support do you provide?

We organize a regular meeting for new business founders. We also offer lectures and courses on topics relating to self-employment and launching your own business. These can be about things like funding or legal questions, or training in public speaking and presentation techniques. In order to make the startup scene at the University even more dynamic, we're planning a Founders' Lounge (Gründerlounge), where people who are interested can get together and talk. The ZuG Project (Zugänge zum Gründen, or Approaches to Starting Your Own Business) is also new. The goal of this program is to make sure that students become familiar with the idea of launching a business as early in their studies as possible.

How important is the Startup Office for the University?

The transfer of knowledge and technology is becoming more and more important for universities. Academic startups play a key role in this, because they disseminate academic knowledge in the economy and thus society. Universities are expected to share their research with an interested public. One of the ways we are working to promote this transfer is through a planned cooperation with the universities of applied sciences in Offenburg and Furtwangen for which we are jointly applying for funding from the government program "Innovative Higher Education Institutions" (Innovative Hochschulen).

Startup Office of the University of Freiburg