BAM is a place of cutting-edge research in key technologies of materials science, materials engineering and chemistry. Many ideas that scientists develop in their laboratories may also prevail in the private sector. But many obstacles lurk on the way towards self-employment. The BAMStartup Slingshot founding initiative helps entrepreneurs to implement their dreams.
The talks in Hagen Saxowski’s office always deal with the future. Young scientists explain their ideas which they hope will lead to self-employment. "The research at BAM is often very application-oriented so it is no wonder that they desire to go it alone with innovative products," explains the head of the Research Services section. The BAMStartup Slingshot founding initiative is intended to protect company founders from failure at the first hurdle because scientific work in the laboratory and the everyday life as an independent entrepreneur are very different. Therefore, future CEOs need professional guidance in implementing their plans.
The term slingshot comes from space travel and embodies the advisory principle of the initiative. It refers to an acceleration manoeuvre in which a small object, such as a spacecraft, flies by close to a planet gaining speed through the gravitational force of the larger body en route to the target. Aerospace engineers like to use these manoeuvres on long journeys through space as it saves costs and fuel for their spacecraft. "We want to achieve a similar effect for our start-ups because our research results should be available to industry and society as quickly as possible," says Saxowski. "Starting a business is a well-proved form of technology transfer."
Every start-up needs individual help
"The requests for support often come from scientist colleagues or via advice from heads of division," explains Saxowski. His job however does not include evaluating the quality of the founding ideas, instead he focuses on the implementation, which often takes years. "Before they come to us, the founder teams have already discussed in detail with their colleagues whether their topic may be marketable," reports Saxowski from his experience.
A promising basic idea is more important than a finished business plan at the beginning of the consultation with the Slingshot team. "We first discuss the options and seek the most sensible way for the foundation," says Saxowski. One option is to search for funding opportunities through foundations or funding programmes. "For example, we work together with EXIST, a funding programme of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, which is specially tailored to technology-oriented and knowledge-based start-ups," says founding supporter Saxowski. Consultants and founding teams have several discussions to clarify which funding instrument fits the project and how the application works. "There are no finished drawers, each foundation has its own special features," says Saxowski. "Our strength is to support such individual cases in a joint development process." There are often many practical problems until the business plan finally comes to fruition: such as under what conditions can BAM help by providing laboratory equipment or scientific devices? BAM also offers equipment and laboratory space that is often hard to find for start-ups.
Other consultants lack specialist knowledge
The diversity of BAM’s scientific work is also reflected in the spin-offs supported by the Slingshot team. The spectrum ranges from novel production pathways for 3D ceramics through the monitoring of structures by sensors to the purification of peptides, which are of interest to the pharmaceutical industry. Classic company foundation consultants lack specialist knowledge of quality management and safety systems. "We knew we had to fill that gap," says Saxowski.
The hurdles in chemistry and materials science are particularly high for founders in this regard. In addition to common issues such as the appropriate legal form of the company, the preparation of a business plan or gaining customers, aspects such as quality management, occupational safety, risk assessments and the handling of chemicals must be dealt with. Patents, tests, approvals, licenses and technical rules must also be taken into account. "BAM has a consulting expertise in this field that is not available in other institutions," says Saxowski.
Motivating towards founding a business
At their presentation at the Hannover Messe 2018, the BAMStartup Slingshot initiative team had Belyntic on their stand as a guest who has roots in BAM and the Berlin Humboldt University. The company specialises in the purification of peptides and has already won several start-up awards. BAM is still supporting young companies in this phase too because "We also acquire experience from helping the spin-offs and can apply this knowledge to the next projects," says Saxowski. The advice must be a mutual relationship and create added value for both.
But the business start-up promotion team does not wait for potential founders to ask for advice. "We want to raise awareness in information events at an early stage for starting a business," says Saxowski. Therefore, the BAMStartup Slingshot initiative regularly presents its activities to BAM’s Ph.D. students. "In talks, we sometimes see that we have triggered foundation ideas that had not really been there before," says Saxowski. In the best case scenario, another "slingshot manoeuvre" develops in which a young start-up team sets out on their way to self-employment benefiting from being accelerated by BAM.