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Universities are the nucleus of new knowledge and ideas. The finest minds come here. But even though there is great potential for new business models and innovation, only a few graduates choose to start their own companies. Compared to the rest of the country, the number of startups founded at the University of Potsdam is relatively high – probably also thanks to the support young entrepreneurs receive here.
Jonas Enderlein always knew that he would be an entrepreneur. After graduating from high school at 18, he founded his first software startup with a friend and hasn’t looked back. He developed an app to listen to the radio online, an online shop for baby products, and started some smaller enterprises. His motivation was to gain experience as an entrepreneur and earn some money while studying.
Enderlein knows from experience that mistakes are almost inevitable when starting a business. Over the past years, he has been a consultant at the University of Potsdam and supported a number of graduates and young researchers who have taken the brave step of starting their own businesses, just as he had done. Now that he has graduated, he has become more professional, with higher ambitions. He is Managing Director of Solutiance Systems GmbH in Potsdam, a company offering software-assisted maintenance services for supermarket and warehouse roofs. The foundations of the system were developed by Enderlein in ConcluTec GmbH, a company he and fellow student Robin Jörke set up at the Hasso Plattner Institute after graduating. The board of Solutiance AG was so impressed by his ideas and products that they took the young graduate on board and added the new branch of technology to their portfolio.
At universities, determined businessmen like Enderlein who start their own companies early on are more the exception than the rule. Yet many researchers and students have what it takes to become an entrepreneur, Robert Klimpke knows. He heads the startup service of Potsdam Transfer, the central scientific institution at the University of Potsdam for creating companies, innovation, and knowledge and technology transfer. Together with his colleagues, he provides startups with many good ideas for how to succeed in the market.
“Generally speaking, starting a business is not a researcher’s top priority,” Klimpke says. He and his colleagues, therefore, actively search for scientific know-how that could be right for a business startup. In their forays through laboratories and offices, they find new ideas that are not only scientifically convincing but that might also prove economically lucrative.
How successful they are is stressed by the fact that every year 150-200 students and researchers contact Klimpke and his colleagues for advice and guidance on how to start a business. Some of them come with a business model in mind; others are at a very early point and still only have vague ideas. In the first meeting, the consultants sort and structure the business ideas and lay out the next steps. Consulting sessions, business plans, and intensive seminars follow, in which the chances of success are analyzed and the future business is thoroughly tested. In the end, 30-40 entrepreneurs start their own companies.
If everything looks good, the business is launched: The startup service facilitates contacts with funding agencies or investors, makes office space available, and connects the startup with potential customers. A coaching process helps to identify strengths and weaknesses. Legal and tax issues are the biggest cause of uncertainty, Klimpke says. “Many lack orientation in this field,” Enderlein confirms. He, too, made poor decisions and had to learn the hard way. With regard to his first company set up as a corporation, he says that it was “nonsense from a fiscal point of view, with way too many accounting obligations”. “Often, I simply underestimated things,” Enderlein says. It ultimately cost him a lot of time.
Before joining the startup service at the University of Potsdam as a setup advisor, Enderlein sought advice there himself in 2012. After a workshop had helped him to realize that his market analysis was incorrect and there was too much competition in the market, he abandoned his idea. This experience was also an aspect of his life as an entrepreneur that became relevant for later projects: One contact he made in those days became instrumental to the creation of his next startup.
Soon after, Enderlein became a setup advisor at Potsdam Transfer, where he is able to give practical advice to future entrepreneurs. He has, after all, been through all the steps himself. From his point of view, it is particularly important to carefully analyze one’s mistakes. “You have to learn from your mistakes; then you can move on.” He recommends that especially at the beginning young entrepreneurs should do many things themselves and delegate very few. In this sense, starting a business from one’s kitchen table is not a bad idea.
Founders often look for someone to help them navigate the startup jungle and for others to complete their team – a chemist, for instance, may need a business economist or a computer scientist may need a product designer. In such cases, Potsdam Transfer can help, too. Speed-matching events are arranged for startups and prospective founders to find out if they might be a good match. Also, at a monthly Startup Story Night, young startups speak about their business ideas, experiences, and the highs and lows of their journey, which provides opportunities to exchange experience. This benefits everyone: those at the very beginning of the process as well as those already hard at work.
“We intend to establish a startup ecosystem and promote entrepreneurial thinking and behavior,” Klimpke describes his mission. “Startups with partners such as Potsdam Transfer are significantly more likely to survive than others,” he emphasizes. He can refer to a number of companies he accompanied during a shaky start that are now well positioned, such as diamond inventics, which develops rapid tests for water samples, or EntoNative, which sells worm meal-based dog treats.
Jonas Enderlein has never regretted his decision to start his own business: “I guess I would not find much fulfilment in being employed. Starting from scratch and building something new, that’s exactly what I want to do.”
Robert Klimpke studied engineering management in Cottbus. Since 2016, he has headed the startup service of Potsdam Transfer, where potential entrepreneurs from universities in the state of Brandenburg can receive individual counseling in developing, financing, and implementing their business concepts.
Jonas Enderlein studied IT systems engineering at Hasso Plattner Institute and was an external setup advisor with a focus on IT at Potsdam Transfer between 2013 and 2015. Today, he is Managing Director and member of the board of Solutiance Systems GmbH.
Potsdam Transfer is the central scientific institution for knowledge and technology transfer at the University of Potsdam. It offers transfer services, startup services, the InnovationLab, and the coordination center for further training and supports startups from the development of their business concepts to market readiness of their products.
Text: Heike Kampe
Translation: Monika Wilke
Published online: Marieke Bäumer
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