• Christina Lüdtke, MD "Science & Startups"

    Wide-ranging Support for University Start-ups

Four universities, one network: The network “Science & Startups” groups the start-up services of the universities united in the Berlin University Alliance. Objective: to create a leading Europe-wide and globally visible ecosystem for research and science-based start-ups by 2030. Around 1,700 professors support this unique network.  

The start-up services of the universities united in the Berlin University Alliance have been successfully working together at operational level for more than ten years – the “Profund Innovation” of the Freie Universität Berlin, the “Humboldt Innovation” of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the “Centre for Entrepreneurship” of the Technische Universität Berlin and the “Charité BIH Innovation”. In 2020 they founded “Science & Startups”: The university network, which is unique in Germany to date, aims specifically to promote the transfer of research results into products, services and solutions with high social added value. 

Christina Lüdtke, Head of Science & Startups, explains more about the network in an interview.

Ms. Lüdtke, who is Science & Startups aimed at?

Science & Startups is aimed at scientists, researchers, alumni and people in general with a scientific background who have innovative research-based ideas. We operate in Berlin in a very cosmopolitan and international start-up ecosystem and see the great potential of the many people with a scientific background from various countries who have found a new home in Berlin: We explicitly invite them to come to us with their ideas.

What services does the network offer budding entrepreneurs from the science sector?

Teams interested in founding a company are supported by the Start-up services of the respective university. In addition, they can use the network, resources and joint offers of the entire network of universities. The Start-up services closely support the prospective founders at the individual institutions. They receive access to the infrastructure – to office space, laboratories, technical equipment or prototyping workshops, but also to networks in the business and financial world. Grants allow them to focus fully on product development. At the same time, we are developing new joint offers in order to be able to support start-ups even more according to their needs. We are currently offering special funding for founders in the areas of Artificial Intelligence, sustainable urban development and health.

It is not easy for scientists to found a company from within the university, as they usually have little or no economic know-how. What are the typical problems?

A lack of entrepreneurial know-how can actually be a problem because many founders have previously worked exclusively in a scientific and technical environment. Team compositions that are not complementary also often lead to problems. A certain love for technology is also typical, working too long on perfecting the technology without getting feedback from the market.

Support from mentors is an important part of Science & Startups. What advantages are there for founding teams?

Science & Startups offers access to over 1,700 professors of the Berlin University Alliance to the teams supported. This opens up a wide range of competencies for the founders and enables a scientifically sound assessment of any business idea. In addition, every university has a group of mentors whose exceptional active commitment to our start-ups goes beyond the usual mentoring. They support the teams competently and action-related and with extensive specialist knowledge, many years of experience and their networks from industry and the respective specialist areas. Many of the mentors also carry the founding idea into their areas of expertise and sensitise students and graduates for starting a business as a career path. 

As you have already mentioned, one focus of Science & Startups is Artificial Intelligence. What programs does the funding for this future topic include? 

With the K.I.E.Z - Artificial Intelligence Entrepreneurship Centre, we officially launched the first nationwide funding program for start-ups in the AI sector in mid-November 2021. With this topic-focused and entrepreneurial model of promoting innovation, we create science-related start-ups that tackle and solve the challenges of today and the future. The range of services from K.I.E.Z. is aimed at the specific needs of AI startups and encompasses the entire innovation chain of business creation – from the identification of start-up potentials in research to support in the incubation phase to an accelerator program. The four-year model project is funded with 6.85 million Euro by the Federal Ministry of Economics and is co-financed by the State of Berlin. It is also an important building block for the strategic development of the AI ecosystem in the Start-up metropolis of Berlin. Currently, we are explicitly calling on AI start-ups and those interested in founding a company to contact us and apply. The application phase for the accelerator program starts in January 2022. For the K.I.E.Z. Incubator, applications are accepted all year round at https://kiez.ai/

Why has the transfer of knowledge between universities and business become so important in recent years? 

In the context of the “Third Mission”, the interdependence of the universities with their environment, the transfer of knowledge and technology play a key role. We believe in the innovative strength of science. And that real change in terms of sustainable development for people, the environment and the planet can only come about through innovative solutions that have their origins in scientific knowledge. With Science & Startups, we identify and highlight those potentials that lie in the entire research scope of our universities. In this way we contribute to solving the fundamental challenges of our time – the “Grand Challenges”. 

What makes Brain City Berlin a good location for founders from the scientific environment? 

Compared to other start-up hotspots in the world, Berlin is relatively affordable with rents that are (still) affordable and a quite low cost of living. This is particularly relevant for early-stage start-ups like the ones we support. With its history behind it, its diversity and openness, Berlin also offers potential founders a unique attitude to life. Science & Startups offers scientific start-up teams a unique start-up ecosystem – with 130,000 potential co-founders and a large network of mentors. Our advisors have many years of experience and expertise in university start-up advice as well as excellent knowledge of the relevant actors and the funding landscape. Since 2010 we have raised around 60,000,000 Euro in funding for start-ups. These are ideal prerequisites for those interested in founding a company from science.

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