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Assistance for start-ups

Getting off to a good start is easy with a good idea and support from the Centre for Entrepreneurship (ZfE) at Kiel University. In 2020, the ZfE team is accompanying four simultaneous EXIST start-up projects on the path to independence.

Woman sitting on a red cube
© ZfE

Anke Rasmus heads the Centre for Entrepreneurship (ZfE) at the CAU and paves the way for innovative company start-ups.

There are no signs of a shortage of work in the wake of the corona pandemic at the university's Centre for Entrepreneurship (ZfE). Quite the opposite, in fact: it looks almost as if the interruption to routines has resulted in a boost in creativity. Dr Anke Rasmus, who heads the central point of contact for all members of the CAU who are interested in start-ups, receives requests for consultations every week, and even without them has plenty to do. She and her team are currently supervising four projects at the same time that have already received funding through the EXIST programme of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, and other teams in the application process. The IdeaChamp and Silolytics teams have received the EXIST Business Start-up Grant, and aerosense and COMPOSE are being funded by the EXIST Transfer of Research programme. All four received funding confirmation in 2020, and were therefore able to start their projects. "This accumulation of EXIST projects is unique. Adding up the amounts for these four projects brings us to a total grant of just under €1.8 million. This is quite a lot in the world of start-ups, and it confirms just what we are achieving here," emphasised Dr Rasmus, who set up the ZfE at Kiel University six years ago.

The currently three-strong team at the ZfE not only supports start-ups with submitting applications for funding, but also supports budding entrepreneurs with their administration once funding has been approved. Dr Rasmus: "I always have a team on the end of the phone because there are still so many things to sort out. After all, they're all doing this for the first time. We act as translators and clarify issues with HR, the finance department or the third-party funding department at the CAU."

However, the start-up teams have plenty to do before they get to that point. First there is the initial consultation. Then the next steps are explored and funding options discussed. "Once we've dealt with all that and the teams are ready to apply for funding, we help them with that," said Dr Rasmus. "The main challenge is to mould the idea they first approached us with into a convincing project application."

The idea sketch is the main part of the application for an EXIST Business Start-up Grant. It should be 25 pages long, and is similar to a business plan. Among other things, the start-up teams are supposed to describe what problem they have identified, how they intend to solve it, what is innovative about their project, how big the market is and what the competitive situation is like. The ZfE team assists in formulating the sketch. "We have also been offering an application programme to go with this since last autumn. This means that we advise several teams together at the same time, so they can also learn from each other. This application programme takes one to two months, depending on how complex the subject is. And then we need another two months at least for the actual application," explained the head of the ZfE.

The application programme for the EXIST Transfer of Research, the funding line for more complex ideas from science, is similar, except that there are deadlines to take into account. Applications may be submitted by 31 January and 31 July each year. And after a successful initial assessment of the applications, the project then has to be presented to a jury of experts in Berlin. The live presentations were cancelled this year because of the corona pandemic. "The teams recorded their presentations in advance, and the jury made its decision by a certain date. Both of our teams were successful," Dr Rasmus reported happily. "Having two EXIST Transfer of Research projects running at the same time is unique for the CAU." And there are other teams on the starting blocks.


Author: Kerstin Nees

EXIST funding programme

EXIST is a funding programme by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Funding is provided in two programme lines, as a start-up grant and a transfer of research programme. The EXIST Business Start-up Grant supports the preparation of innovative technology-oriented and knowledge-based start-up projects for students, graduates and scientists. The EXIST Transfer of Research programme promotes both the development work necessary to demonstrate the technical feasibility of research-based start-up ideas and the preparations required to launch the company. It is aimed at scientists who have developed an idea from their scientific work. "It has to be something entirely innovative, something that there has never been before. Then the EXIST Transfer of Research programme is the right choice because the teams still have eighteen months to develop their work," explained Dr Anke Rasmus, the expert in start-up and innovation management. "Teams that apply for a start-up grant are closer to the market and no longer need as much development work." (ne)