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Science2Start: The initial hurdles of company foundation can be overcome

In scientists’ heads and desk drawers there exists a mine of dormant ideas that could be turned into commercially successful products according to Dr. Kathrin Ballesteros-Katemann, project manager at BioRegio STERN Management GmbH in Stuttgart. However, a lack of business know-how and the reluctance to take the first step are often major impediments when it comes to becoming self-employed. The Science2Start project now offers such scientists a platform for bringing undiscovered ideas to light and turning them into a business.

Dr. Ballesteros-Katemann, there are already some start-up contests, for example CyberOne or Science4Life. What is the difference between these and Science2Start?

Dr. Kathrin Ballesteros-Katemann has long experience in working with company founders. © BioRegio STERN

The CyberOne and Science4Life contests generally require applicants to submit a finalised business plan and to have quite an accurate idea on what type of company they want to establish. It is not enough to just have a good idea.

We wanted to organise a contest that is specifically designed for researchers, primarily working in the laboratory, not to be discouraged from participating right from the start. Science2Start is also open to people who do not actively want to establish a company, but who have an idea and just want to find out whether it is worth thinking further about company establishment.

Why is the 'Science2Start' idea competition restricted to the life sciences sector?

It has been shown that scientists working in the life sciences hardly ever take part in existing competitions of this type. We have thought about the potential reasons for this and concluded that life sciences ideas give rise to products that are more difficult and longer to produce than ideas and products in other sectors. This is particularly evident in competitions where the jury consists mainly of experts from other disciplines who are often unable to assess the potential of a biotechnological product with the necessary competence.

What kind of feedback did you get for your idea competition?

We are very happy with the feedback we have received. Although the competition is restricted to the STERN Bioregion, many ideas have been submitted, all of which have great potential. We also found that many excellent ideas are stored away in scientists’ desk drawers, and are just waiting to be turned into reality.

Interested founders attending the Science2Start roadshow at the University of Tübingen
Interested founders attending the Science2Start roadshow at the University of Hohenheim © BioRegio STERN

What has prevented these potential company founders from setting up a company up until now?

The majority of researchers do not know how to prepare a business plan or go about establishing a company. They might be offered a post-doctoral position and decide to go for that, just because it is the easier option. For us it is therefore quite important to make contact with scientists very early in their professional career. That is why we invited graduate students and doctoral students to take part in the competition. We want to show them that we will support them – at no cost – should they decide to set up a company.

How important is the regional aspect of such offers?

Being a business development agency, it is very important for us to establish personal, face-to-face contacts with potential founders. This is of decisive importance for an intensive and trust-based cooperation. There is a lot that cannot be dealt with properly on the phone. In addition, this enables us to react more quickly and directly to individual requirements. We are also offering a consulting day with a High-Tech Gründerfonds representative because we have realised there are many unanswered questions with regard to financing. Six meeting dates were available, all of which were fully booked very quickly. We will now offer such consulting days on a regular basis in the future.

Science2Start is especially designed for founders in what is known the seed phase. Do you also support start-ups in the subsequent phases of company establishment?

Yes, with the Science2Start Lounge we have initiated a network where founders, people who are interested in establishing a company and young professionals already a few steps ahead meet and exchange their experiences. For example, how can scientists become entrepreneurs? It might be very helpful to see that it is possible to overcome the initial hurdles and that other people have already done so.

In addition, company foundation and family life should not be mutually exclusive. Therefore, BioRegio STERN – with the support of an external service provider – helps people interested in setting up their own company to look for and find suitable childcare options.

What other concrete offers can you make to potential company founders?

With our Science2Business programme we also help potential founders with the efficient preparation of market research, financing plans and even complete business plans. We are of the opinion that a life scientist who wants to found a company should not need to study economics in order to successfully found a company. It is far more important that the founders get help from experts who enjoy this aspect of business.

We have recently initiated a programme in association with ESB Reutlingen, which offers the school’s MBA students the possibility of doing their master’s thesis as a kind of dual project, where they also work on a concrete company foundation project in the STERN BioRegion. This offer was very popular and two projects have already been started. The programme stands out because the life scientists involved give the MBA students insights in their daily work and vice versa. Therefore, both parties are forced to look at things from the perspective of the other, something that can be decisive in the understanding of each other. It would of course be the ideal case scenario if such a cooperation resulted in the partners joining forces and founding a company together. But this is not obligatory; it needs to happen on its own.


The "Science2Start" project initiated by BioRegio STERN Management GmbH is designed to specifically support company foundations in the life sciences area. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economics will provide the project with around 180,000 euros from the European Social Fund for a period of three years. The money will be used to finance an idea competition, a business programme and roadshows. The prizes for the best ideas will be awarded at BioRegio STERN's annual summer party in Esslingen on 16th July 2009.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/press-release/science2start-the-initial-hurdles-of-company-foundation-can-be-overcome