Turning Problems Into Opportunities

Germany needs more entrepreneurs. But while recent surveys agree that 25% to 30% of young scientists have good chances for creating a start-up, only 5% currently dare to take this step. In our ongoing series, Next Wave Germany and the Berlin Institute of Entrepreneurship have invited leading experts to discuss ways in which the Culture of Entrepreneurship can be fostered at German universities. This week, Günther Seliger, professor at Berlin's Technical University, explains why students will have to be trained to take risks.

Universities represent the basis of science and research in Germany and embrace numerous advantages for entrepreneurial ventures within one single institution for the following reasons:

  • Universities combine research with education for students and other faculty members.

  • Research is conducted in a broad variety of fields, which opens an opportunity for interdisciplinary communication.

  • A continuous argument between established faculty members and young students questions the status quo and pushes forward toward new thinking patterns.

  • For this reason German universities could represent an ideal platform for innovative and entrepreneurial ideas, which could be consolidated by teaching appropriate skills in classes. One example for the specific interdisciplinarity is the recent approach to merge talents from the technical and economical fields of studies.

    An entrepreneurial environment is not yet sufficiently supported by the academic staff. It will be a major challenge of today's educational systems to further foster entrepreneurial spirits, which are of most importance for a successful entrepreneurial culture. The idea, the entrepreneur, and the resources--the three main criteria for a successful start-up--are already an integral part of the German university environment and must be further developed, planned, and optimized.

  • The Idea

    The educational environment enables the development of new ideas through the exchange of opinions between students. This can be even more beneficial if students from different field of studies come together. Apart from that horizontal exchange of ideas, one major advantage of the university campus is the possible vertical exchange between students, teaching assistants, and professors. In particular, the communication between students and professor must be further improved in order to enable sound idea valuing and feedback from faculty members.

  • The Entrepreneur

    The combination of lectures and practical exercises, as well as the freedom in regards to class participation and class scheduling, stimulates self-determent and systematic working habits. However, the imparting of specialized knowledge plays the major role in the German educational system. For this reason it will be necessary to focus on more global economical issues as well as to foster teamwork. Students will have to be trained in the ability to solve problems, make necessary decisions, motivate team members, and take risks. The ultimate goal must be to impart the spirit of turning a problem into an opportunity!

  • The Resources

    By providing infrastructure, young entrepreneurs can take advantage of a number of university facilities such as laboratories, Internet access, machinery, and premises. This takes into account that most entrepreneurs do not have the financial backbone to invest in expensive goods and equipment.

  • In conclusion, it can be stated that the German university system opens many opportunities to support entrepreneurial spirit. However, a more straightforward effort must be made to encourage and educate entrepreneurs. Apart from the already existing support, the most comprehensive approach to further improve the educational environment for entrepreneurial ventures is to establish a sophisticated incubator system. This must provide university start-ups with an integral support. The incubator system has not been fully realized yet, but must be seen as a vision for the near future!

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