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A closer look : Europe's largest Innovation Center

Helmut Schönenberger, co-founder of the TUM Entrepreneurship Center, takes a closer look at growing startups from science, 29 March 2019

Entrepreneurship Center of UnternehmerTUM GmbH (Image: Andreas Battenberg / TUM)

TUM Entrepreneurship Center

Innovation and startup center with international appeal

The city of Munich is recognized worldwide not only for its scientific excellence. It is also the largest university startup forge in Germany – thanks to the affiliated UnternehmerTUM Institute, Europe’s leading center for innovation and business creation. UnternehmerTUM, founded by entrepreneur Susanne Klatten, offers founders outstanding support. But also corporate partners can get an innovation boost here and establish contacts to the startup world.

Helmut Schönenberger, co-founder and managing director of UnternehmerTUM, knows from his own experience how to build a flourishing company from a good idea. The aerospace engineer had the idea that would shape his life when he compared TUM with the American elite university Stanford in California during his postgraduate studies in business administration. He came to the conclusion that, following Stanford’s example, a small entrepreneurship center should also be set up at TUM. And he succeeded in finding two well-known supporters for his idea: TUM President Wolfgang Herrmann and the entrepreneur Susanne Klatten.

More than 50 new startups per year

In 2002 the idea was implemented and UnternehmerTUM was founded. Today, the institution offers founders an all-round service – from the initial idea to the IPO. A team of more than 240 experienced employees, including entrepreneurs, scientists and investors, support the startup process, market entry and financing – including venture capital. The focus of funding is on technology-based companies. In the meantime, the high-tech forge produces more than 50 high-growth startups per year.

The key to success is the extremely good framework conditions in the Greater Munich Area. More than 15 universities belong to the fertile startup ecosystem, including TUM and Ludwig Maximilian University, two universities of excellence. In addition, there are several Max Planck and Fraunhofer Institutes as well as the headquarters of large technology companies such as Airbus, BMW and Siemens. They act as development workers, sales partners and pilot customers.

KONUX, Lilium and a "unicorn”

One of the most successful startups that UnternehmerTUM accompanied is KONUX. The company, which was launched in 2014, has developed an intelligent sensor system that detects when a machine or component needs maintenance. An important customer is Deutsche Bahn, which attaches Konux sensors to points in order to save inspection costs and introduce predictive maintenance.

Lilium Aviation wants to revolutionize mobility with electric air taxis. The small aircraft take off vertically like a drone and then switch to forward flight. This is made possible by 36 special electric motors on the wings. In the air taxis, five people will be able to fly up to 300 kilometers at 300 kilometers per hour. Lilium also takes off economically vertically. Founded in 2015 by four engineers and doctoral candidates from TUM, the startup now enjoys the trust of extremely renowned investors such as the Chinese Internet company Tencent and Silicon Valley Bank.

Another flagship startup is Celonis, which was founded by three Munich TU students in 2011. The three have developed an intelligent Big Data technology that makes the most important processes in companies transparent – purchasing and sales as well as logistics and accounting. This process mining enables managers to organize the company better and more efficiently. Since last year Celonis has reached the rank of a “unicorn”. It belongs to the club of rare startups with an estimated value of more than one billion US dollars and is in the best company with Uber, Airbnb or Zalando.

Internationally active and optimally networked

These success stories were also made possible by the new building of UnternehmerTUM and TU Munich in Garching. Opened in 2015, the 6,100 square metre Entrepreneurship Center offers a unique infrastructure for founders – above all the high-tech workshop MakerSpace with modern machinery for prototype construction and small series production.

UnternehmerTUM also has an excellent international network. On the one hand with global players such as Google, Intel or SAP, on the other hand with research institutes and universities worldwide. In Switzerland, for example, the Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano is one of the partners. The experts from UnternehmerTUM support high-tech startups in international scaling. They also help foreign teams to enter the German market.

From the idea to the IPO

Like the pearls of a chain, the offers for founding teams are lined up one after the other. In the pre-incubation program XPLORE, the experts from UnternehmerTUM develop a valid business model together with the potential founders and test the market chances of the idea. The next step is the three-month full-time incubator program XPRENEURS, which prepares the founders for market entry. The Accelerator TechFounders prepares the startups for a first venture capital round. B.NEO addresses corporates from all industries. Within the scope of this offer, companies can strengthen their innovative strength and network with the startup world.

UnternehmerTUM can provide startup companies not only with know-how, but also with the necessary small change. Entrepreneurship Venture Capital (UVC) invests specifically in startups in German-speaking countries in the areas of Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things, B2B software, mobility and Smart City.

Initiatives for mobility and artificial intelligence

UnternehmerTUM brings together stakeholders from a wide variety of fields in central fields of innovation and thus sets clear impulses on a national and international level. These initiatives currently focus on the topics of mobility, applied artificial intelligence and Smart City.

UnternehmerTUM has been coordinating the activities of the Digital Hub Mobility since 2016. The Mobility Hub is one of twelve hubs built around Germany’s leading industries as part of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology’s Digital Hub Initiative. They are intended to promote digital transformation in Germany. In the Digital Hub Mobility, automobile manufacturers network specifically with IT, software and Internet companies. Together with startups and science, they develop cross-industry solutions.

On the subject of artificial intelligence, UnternehmerTUM 2018 launched the Initiative for applied artificial intelligence (appliedAI) together with partners from the Internet industry and industry. The initiative aims to promote the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in Germany. To this end, it wants to convey a broad understanding of AI, its significance and its possible applications. In its in-house AI laboratory, UnternehmerTUM provides all interested parties with state-of-the-art hardware, the knowledge of experts and advice on the development of AI technologies.

Ideas for the cities of tomorrow

Solutions for tomorrow’s city are to be created in the Munich Urban Colab in the future. UnternehmerTUM, together with the city of Munich, is building a new center for innovation and business creation in the heart of the city, offering over 11,000 square metres of space for the development and testing of Smart City Solutions.

From 2020, startups, corporates, scientists and creative people from a wide variety of industries will work together on intelligent technologies and services here. Their common goal is to make life in cities worth living in. There are plenty of topics: transport, air pollution, renewable energies, water and wastewater management, affordable housing. With this unique concept, UnternehmerTUM and the city of Munich want to secure an international pioneering role for Smart City solutions. According to a United Nations study, around 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. And that is an estimated 6.8 billion people.

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