What do student startups usually need?

Foundation from the university: diverse offers

From university to self-employment

As the course slowly draws to a close, the first students deal more intensively with their professional future. For many, the job with a large corporation is at the top of their wish-list: the pay is good, the number of hours per week is regulated by collective agreements and the job is secure. Most students do not consider starting their own company.

But appearances are deceptive: Even if Germans rarely set up a business in a European comparison - the proportion of academic founders in the total number of founders is significantly higher than the proportion of academics in the total population. According to the factbook “Land of Founders Germany”, around 28% of entrepreneurs have a university degree. If the German Startup Monitor is to be believed, almost 81% of the founders of start-ups with an innovative business idea should even have a university degree.

Academics therefore set up a company relatively often, albeit rarely directly from the university. According to the start-up radar published by the Stifterverband, of the 254 German universities surveyed, 1,766 start-ups were reported in 2013. This means a significant increase compared to the previous year, but at a very low level.

In the following we want to shed more light on why the path from university to self-employment can be worthwhile and what support students, graduates and academic staff can get when setting up a company.

In our Für-Gründer.de blog you will find more exciting articles on founding a business from the university.

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Advantages and disadvantages of starting a business from university

At some point, as a student or as an employed research assistant, you may be faced with the question: Should I take the risk and start my own company or should I choose the safer path of an employee?

A lack of professional experience often stands in the way of founding the company, which is often not possible as a student or graduate. Building a company successfully without resorting to past professional experience is often a problem. The little knowledge of typical business practices and the lack of market and industry knowledge often turn out to be too great a hurdle. In addition, there is often too little equity to cover the costs of a start-up alone.

However, solutions are also available for these problems. When founding a university, support is now offered from many sides: Financial support options such as EXIST subsidize innovative and promising business ideas. A large number of universities provide a broad start-up network that provides student or academic founders with contacts and know-how.

As a student or young academic, you are often full of energy and can find the energy you need for a start-up more easily than an employee who has been with the company for years and who often lacks the appropriate innovative spirit and the necessary flexibility. Even if the risk of failure always plays a role - at a young age there are usually no financial obligations, so that one falls softly even in the event of failure.

EXIST funding program when the university is founded

There are various funding programs at state and federal level to support start-ups from academia. The EXIST program initiated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is one of the most important and most widely used funding measures in Germany. With its EXIST start-up grant and the EXIST research transfer, it subsidizes students, graduates and academic staff who start up their own businesses.

The EXIST start-up grant is aimed at founders with innovative technology-oriented or knowledge-based start-up projects with clear unique selling points and economically high prospects of success. Start-up teams of up to three people are funded for up to a year with a maximum of 3,000 euros per month to secure their personal livelihood. Additional funds are available for material expenses and coaching. The application is possible at any time and goes through the responsible university.

Funding from EXIST research transfer, on the other hand, focuses exclusively on research-based start-up projects that involve costly and risky development work. The funding amount in the first funding phase over a period of 18 months is a maximum of 250,000 euros, in the second funding phase up to 180,000 euros in funding can be collected for a spin-off, i.e. a spin-off from the university.

If you are interested in EXIST, get in touch with the relevant contact person at one of the 22 start-up universities. If your university is not listed, you can also contact one of the geographically nearby universities.

We have clearly presented the most important facts and figures of the EXIST start-up grant in this infographic.

The first steps to becoming an academic founder

However, start-ups from universities are not only supported by financial means, but also by various, mostly regionally-oriented start-up initiatives. For this purpose, there is often an offer of advice through the association of universities and other institutions. There founders receive:

  • Useful help and advice
  • Access to networks
  • Right of use for the existing infrastructure of universities and research institutions.

In the following, the most important projects for promoting business start-ups in association with a university are presented, broken down by federal state.








Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania:

Lower Saxony:

North Rhine-Westphalia:




Events for founders from the university

Before someone interested in founding a business starts contacting such a student start-up initiative, ideally, however, a business idea should already exist and have already been worked out.

If, on the other hand, there is still no exciting concept for a start-up, it is advisable to find like-minded people with whom you can work on a new idea. In the meantime, a series of events has established itself here in Germany, which gives those interested in founding the opportunity to develop their own start-up idea as a team over a weekend. These so-called startup weekends are now regularly held in all major cities in Germany and are enjoying increasing popularity. For students in particular, taking part in a Startup Weekend is a good opportunity to get a taste of entrepreneurship and to prepare for the start of self-employment.

There are also other conferences specifically aimed at student founders:

Author: Für-Gründer.de editors

As editor-in-chief, René Klein has been responsible for the content of the portal and all publications by Für-Gründer.de for over 10 years. He is a regular interlocutor in other media and writes numerous external specialist articles on start-up topics. Before his time as editor-in-chief and co-founder of Für-Gründer.de, he advised listed companies in the field of financial market communication.