Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) runs an extensive programme to promote startups, called EXIST. It offers grants to transfer university research into campus startups, and helps foster a culture of entrepreneurship through innovation workshops, consulting services, and industry connects. The phases of the entrepreneurial journey are evocatively described as Get Started, Get Prepared, Get Together, and Get Traction.
Oliver Hunke is in charge of the EXIST programme, and has been with BMWi since 2001. He has also served as a lecturer in organisational management and a consultant in trade and export finance. He graduated from the University of Konstanz in Baden-Württemberg and University of Manchester (UK).
Oliver joins us for an interview on the founding vision of EXIST, support services for creating a culture of entrepreneurship, selection criteria of startups, and future plans.
The meeting with EXIST was made possible upon an invitation by the German government. The Indian delegation included representatives from Karnataka Startup Cell, NASSCOM, Axilor, and YourStory.
Edited excerpts of the interview:
YourStory: What was the founding vision of EXIST, and how is it supported?
Oliver Hunke: Young, innovative businesses form an important cornerstone for Germany’s economic competitiveness. This is particularly true of businesses emerging from settings such as universities and research institutes, which are developing innovative products from new ideas and research findings.
The cutting-edge research taking place at German universities and research institutes offer an ideal breeding ground for innovative ideas. The businesses founded by these institutions are strategically positioned to gain a foothold in international markets early on. Together with their technological advantage, this enables them to grow faster than other enterprises. This is a good foundation for high-quality jobs.
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) supports startups from universities and other research institutes with its “EXIST – University-based Startup” programme. The goal is to achieve a more consistent transfer of the findings from scientific research into the economic value chain, thereby increasing the number of innovative startups.
To this end, the BMWi focuses on three modules: anchoring a culture of entrepreneurial independence at universities and research institutes; promoting innovative startups from universities and research institutes with the EXIST Business Startup Grant; and supporting outstanding research-based startups from science with the EXIST Research Transfer programme.
This programme aims at improving the entrepreneurial environment at universities and research institutes. It also aims at increasing the number and success of technology and knowledge-based business startups. The BMWi supports university graduates, scientists and students to this end in preparing their technology and knowledge-based startups. EXIST also promotes a lively and lasting entrepreneurial culture at public and private universities.
YS: How many startups have graduated from your programme, and which startups are currently enrolled?
OH: Around 2,300 startups from a wide variety of research fields have graduated from our programme. We have established an Alumni Web Platform; see the full list and categories here. The startups are in various fields like bio-technology, energy, optical technologies, digital media, automation, medical technology, lasers, and environmental technology. Lists and links to startups in grant stage or transfer of research (Phase 1, Phase 2) are accessible online.
Graduated startups include 4GENE, A+ Composites, Additive Works, Ambiverse Software, BitFlux, Celago Sensors, Code Intelligence, Cold PlasmaTech, DSP Mobile, FiberBridge Photonics, GeneTalk, Memetis, Munich Composites, PhotonScore, Systasy BioScience, Turbonik, and many more. One of our startups has also achieved unicorn status: Celonis, which helps companies turn process insights into action.
YS: What would you define as success for EXIST?
OH: Success would come from a thriving culture of entrepreneurship and transfer of innovation being instilled at German universities. People from all over the world will be able to transfer their innovative ideas into products, launch companies with successful business models, and employ people in Germany.
EXIST will also be successful if more investors place their funds in German startup companies. For individual startups, success would be if they form a legal entity, raise investment rounds, and gain access to local and international markets.
YS: How is the EXIST programme managed?
OH: The programme is run by Project Management Jülich, a project management agency founded in 1974. It has expertise in research and innovation management, and supports the objectives of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).
The team responsible for the EXIST programme combines experiences in entrepreneurship, science and technology transfer. We also collaborate with a Germany-wide network of more than 190 universities and their transfer services who consult for the applying teams.
YS: What would you say are the top strengths Germany offers startups?
OH: Germany is the entry gate for many international companies to the European market. We have a talent pool of highly educated employees. There is also a rising culture of entrepreneurship at German universities, and plenty of government funding programmes for innovative startups.
YS: What are the key challenges faced by startups, and how can you help to bridge the gap?
OH: Startups with innovative ideas often face the following challenges: risk-avoiding culture, lack of potential investors, and lack of culture to accept and recover from failures. For social entrepreneurs, the biggest challenge in social innovation is to create and keep on adapting a sustainable business model.
Full Interview Here: How this government funding programme has launched over 2,300 startups