Prof. Dr. Christoph Ihl von der TUHH © Basamba Samba

Startup Dock: "Hamburg needs a pay it forward culture"

Startup SERIES - Part 2: Prof. Dr. Christoph Ihl at TUHH discusses founding start-ups at universties in an interview with Hamburg News

Coaches at the Startup Dock at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg (TUHH) have already advised start-ups like tabbt, fashion cloud or Jaano. Prof. Dr. Christoph Ihl, Academic Director of the Business Incubator, develops teaching and research offers in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship there.

Hamburg News: Prof. Ihl, what advantages do universities offer young founders?

Ihl: At the Startup Dock, we mesh practical demands with teaching. That’s how helpful synergies arise: students write their Master’s theses about founding their own companies or attend seminars to help their start-up projects. Young companies find us via their student staff or receive references from academia to apply for grants. Naturally, there are also successful foundings in “free hunting ground”, but the density of innovation at universities is clearly higher.

Hamburg News: Does the Startup Dock support mainly technological start-ups?

Ihl: We have many scientific, engineering projects in the GreenTech, Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things fields with logistical focal points. There are, of course, start-ups with a digital focus on apps or platforms. Those business models have to be technology-orientated or scalable. But we do not aim to choose start-ups according to standard criteria. We are basically open to all ideas and try to make the concepts attractive to financial investors.

Hamburg News: Should they be students at the TU?

Ihl: The founders that we support are not all from the TU, but they had links to a university in Hamburg or the metropolitan region as students. The best projects emerge when experts from various sectors like designers, economists and engineers work together. Rivalry between scientific institutions is pointless. The founders’ scene in Hamburg needs a closely-knit network of qualified mentors who are generally available to university spin-offs rather than another public funding institution. Silicon Valley calls that “pay it forward culture” meaning successful founders that pass their knowledge onto the next generation.

Hamburg News: Which of your protégés has special potential?

Ihl: We only launched two and a half years ago and it takes five to seven years to see whether a company can survive in the long-term. Two of our start-ups stand out at present because they have just finished the first, big financing round or won prizes. For one, there is Bentekk that has a mobile gas-measuring instrument and then there is PipeHydroEnergy with technology for energy recovery in water pipes. Our hidden champions include the Internet of Things newcomer, Synergeticon and GitMate’s automatic code analysis system. Their ideas are promising, but I think very much of the teams behind these start-ups.

Hamburg News: Do you notice certain trends in the Hamburg start-up scene?

Ihl: Until now, Hamburg has clearly been perceived as a media and digital location. But I hope and believe that Hamburg can receive even more impetus from its multifaceted academic landscape. The founders’ scene could make more progress in the Internet of Things with smart-city, smart-port and smart logistics projects in future. The MLove Future City Campus is also exciting and TU Hamburg also has high expectations on the sector. Green Tech is another promising sector. The TU Hamburg, the Energy Campus at HAW in Bergedorf are busy in that respect. Hopefully, a third pillar in optics, laser and nanotechnology will develop well at the Desy Centre and the University of Hamburg.

Sources and further information:

The following articles in the series have already been published:
Part 1: Start-ups in Hamburg coming up with uses for virtual reality

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