After the TU Munich revealed its Spin-OFF strategy through Professor Klaus Diepold - and thus provided an object lesson for Austria's environment as well - Diego Probst, Managing Director at the "Center for Entrepreneurship" of the University of St. Gallen (HSG), shows how the incubator "Startup@HSG" serves as an impulse generator for the Swiss startup scene. And has given rise to more than 100 spin-offs over the past few years. Among them Abacus, Namics, Planted, or OnlineDoctor. N26 founder Valentin Stalf also belongs to the Swiss university list as "HSG Founder of the Year 2018".
Startup@HSG: Many vessels.
"The 'Center for Entrepreneurship', headed by Dietmar Grichnik, advises prospective founders from the ranks of the University of St. Gallen. It brings HSG students and academics together with external partners from research and practice, coordinates entrepreneurship courses - and does much more," explains Probst.
He remembers that more than ten years ago, there was little in the way of startup support in St. Gallen. Everything started on a small scale, the "Gründergarage" was launched, corporates were invited and gradually that seed was planted, the results of which can currently be seen.
"Today, there are various vessels: for example, the Spin-OFF label, where you award Spin-OFFs that meet individual criteria, events where you can motivate and inform yourself, a talents program, individually timed programs, pitching to investors, feedback, legal advice or a 'fast incubation program' to be ready outside the HSG."
Learnings in the incubator
Participants in the "Startup@HSG" initiative also receive office space, infrastructure and are mentored for a year after graduation. They learn what funding tools are available, how to measure KPIs, what pricing means, evaluation and testing methods, and how to map a chronology - from profiling to funding to exit.
"The question of motivation is an issue. What do I want in the first place, who is the target group, who actually pays, who do I need and what are my resources," Probst summarizes the most important "learnings." "Participants need to become aware of these questions and go through the whole 'Journey'. Step by step, to find out where their gaps are. And identify the gaps they need to fill. As well as, very importantly, build a network that we provide. Investors, companies, corporates, lawyers and coaches. It's simply about the hands-on process."
The criteria for acceptance into the program are to be an enrolled student at the university, not necessarily to have a sensational idea, but to show talent and creativity. Applications are made through a form and video pitch; a panel of seven judges selects participants.
The participation issue in spin-offs - In Austria, investment companies
As in Germany, the university does not participate in the respective startups, but a new university law that will come into force in 2024 should make this possible in the future, as Probst tells us.
In Austria, such participation is currently not provided for in the University Act, as Rudolf Dömötör, director of WU Gründungszentrum and head of "Entrepreneurship Center Network" (ECN) explains when asked.
"Most universities and universities of applied sciences in Austria, however, have holding companies that participate, for example, in career services, bookshops, research centers or infrastructure," he says.
Dömötör lets it be known that the Republic is currently engaged in a discourse to explain what opportunities to participate there should be for universities and their spin-offs in the future.
"Currently, there are two universities with spin-off investment companies in Austria: the University of Innsbruck and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna," Dömötör adds. "However, several others are in the process of looking into establishing holding companies. I think something will happen in this regard in the coming months."
Startup@HSG on the canton hunt
Meanwhile, St. Gallen University is on the lookout for more ways to enrich its startup scene and expand its influence.
"We are exploring," Probst explains. "We want to become a startup canton together with the canton (note: St. Gallen). Not only at the HSG, but by means of regionality, innovation should emerge. We want to show that this is possible and continue to offer attractive opportunities. There are still students who still don't know what we do. We want the HSG to be seen as a startup university."