7 - Developing our higher education institutions to become the leading academies for start-ups in Germany

We want to significantly increase the start-up activities in our universities and colleges. At least three higher education institutions need to be in the national top ten. Our intention is for the number of spin-offs to increase by at least 50 per cent by 2024. The federal EXIST-Gründerstipendium grant scheme for start-ups should ensure that North Rhine-Westphalia climbs to rank among the top three federal states within the next five years.

Where we are now

Higher education establishments are hugely important for a region’s start-up ecosystem. Not only do they educate tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, they are also a place where exciting business ideas with brand-new technologies are conceived. The vast majority of high-flyers in the start-up scene and businesses financed by venture capital originate in a higher education institution.

No other academic landscape in Germany is as dense and versatile as in North Rhine-Westphalia. Our region has 70 universities and colleges teaching and doing research. Our universities have reinforced their international reputation in the current competition for strategic excellence, with 14 excellence clusters taking up residence in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Nevertheless, North Rhine-Westphalia still rarely manages to implement this excellence in research in promising start-ups. In the nation’s central start-up support programmes, given the size and opportunities available in North Rhine-Westphalia, our region could perhaps demonstrate considerably more cases being funded (see graphic).

Distribution of cases funded by the EXIST-Gründerstipendium and Forschungstransfer grant scheme and start-ups financed by the High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF)
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There is also some catching up to be done regarding start-up activities in higher education institutions: the start-up radar of the Association for the Promotion of Science and Humanities in Germany sees RWTH Aachen as the best university in North Rhine-Westphalia in 9th place below the start-up-smart universities in Germany. The other universities are positioned mid-table or lower. Ultimately, there is still potential to be leveraged in the interplay between entrepreneurial spirit and science, according to the Start-up Monitor NRW 2019. This is one of the things reflected in the small proportion of postdocs compared with the national average.

Where we want to be

We want to significantly increase the start-up activities in our universities and colleges. At least three higher education institutions need to be in the national top ten. Our intention is for the number of spin-offs to increase by at least 50 per cent by 2024. The federal EXIST-Gründerstipendium grant scheme for start-ups should ensure that North Rhine-Westphalia climbs to rank among the top three federal states within the next five years.

What we are doing

  • Through the Exzellenz Start-up Center NRW initiative, we are supporting the development of existing start-up initiatives into professionally engaged Exzellenz Start-up Centers at the universities of Aachen, Cologne, Bochum, Dortmund, Munster and Paderborn. We are setting aside 150 million euros for this through to 2024. Particularly promising individual projects are being supported at other universities.

  • We are supporting our higher education establishments with applications for the federal funding initiatives for start-up activities in higher education establishments. State funding activities are aimed at the greatest potential success regarding the EXIST programme and StartUpLab@FH.

  • The Start-up Transfer NRW funding programme is aimed at start-up teams from higher education establishments. Non-university research institutions and additions to the start-up team are also permitted.

  • The NRW.BANK Venture Center offers a consultancy package for budding technology-oriented entrepreneurs from universities and research institutions, as well as newly established, innovative start-ups.

  • Through the NRW Patent-Validierungs-Programm funding scheme, we support our universities in validating patents to make inventions and concepts available for users in business and society (prototype funding, proof of concept). This also particularly helps start-up projects, enabling key technological hurdles to be overcome before the actual start-up and capital acquisition.

  • We are aiming for standard licence agreements that can be used as the fundamental baseline for the use of any patent. We thus want to ensure that start-up projects do not fail or become delayed due to start-up teams and universities failing to reach an agreement on licences.

  • As part of the Ruhr conference, start-ups from academia are also being picked up in the panel ‘From idea to product – How is research transferred into start-ups?’, by developing action approaches in this respect for the Ruhr.

  • The Higher Education Act gives students the opportunity to take a semester of leave to enable them to set up a business, without any disadvantage regarding any fixed-term state benefits.