© Klaus Sailer / SCE

“We Have a Great Pioneering Spirit at the Moment” — an Interview with Klaus Sailer

Prof. Dr. Klaus Sailer, Professor of Entrepreneurship since 2006 at the Munich University of Applied Sciences and Managing Director of the Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship (SCE) talks about successful startups from the SCE, social responsibility and the current pioneering spirit in the Munich ecosystem.

For anyone who might not be familiar with the Strascheg Center for Entrepreneurship: What do you do and who is your target group?

The SCE is an affiliated institute of the Munich University of Applied Sciences (MUAS) and aims to support entrepreneurial thinking and measures. We offer a wide range of formats in the field of qualification and we support innovative projects, teams and startups on their path to success. We not only have experienced startup advisors to do so, but also an incubator and a large network that help our teams find the right partners and stakeholders. In all of our activities, it is important to us to put the main focus on social responsibility. Our main target group includes students and alumni from MUAS, but we are also happy to support innovative ideas, projects and teams from outside the university.

Which startups will we be hearing a lot about in the future that started out with support from the SCE?

Every year, we have roughly 20 to 25 fantastic and successful startups founded in the most varied of fields – ranging from high-tech to social ideas. They have all become dear to our hearts. Some remain “hidden champions” while others have become hot topics. I wish I could attach an entire list, but a few names that are more well-known would be Freeletics, FTapi or Ridetronic, which became popular after successful participation in the German TV show “Thing of the Year” (Das Ding des Jahres) on the channel ProSieben. In the technical field, we see a great deal of potential in companies such as Toposens, ProGlove, Rapitag or also Fazua, Seiratherm and Adnymics. Spyra, which is developing the water gun of the future, just recently started a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and Urmo wants to do the same with an advanced, portable Segway successor. We are also very intrigued by companies that put the main focus on social benefit, such as NearBees.

International exchange

The SCE is considered extremely well networked internationally. Which projects are you working on outside of Germany?

We’ll have to see how things continue with open markets. However it may turn out, it’s important to us that both our students and teams from other ecosystems and cultures are able to learn and exchange ideas. That’s why the SCE offers different international training formats which allow participants to establish interesting contacts on the one hand while also being able to implement projects and found startups on the other. That might include BIPA, a ten-week program with cooperation partners from Israel, our bootcamp with participants from around the world and curricular concepts with the St. Petersburg Polytechnic University and the California Polytechnic State University.

With our open international incubation program “coneeect IN,” we’re currently establishing an international network that will allow us and partner universities all around the world to offer uncomplicated international exchange for students and particularly startups. The partners view themselves as a large incubator that is open to all teams from all locations. For other international activities, we cooperate with the other entrepreneurship centers of Munich universities. With the Social Entrepreneurship Akademie, which we all came together to create, we offer programs such as the Global Entrepreneurship Summer School at four different, international locations.

As an affiliated institute of MUAS, you’re established quite firmly on a local level. How do you benefit from the global network?

Universities also need to think in increasingly international terms in the future if they want to remain attractive to students. That’s why it’s important to us to expand our international programs, particularly in the field of entrepreneurship. It’s important to us for students to be open to and curious about the world. Our teams should also network with international startups, partners and ecosystems; we want to attract international teams to Munich as well. In my opinion, universities provide the ideal environment for just that, because this is where organizing the exchange of ideas can be quite fun and uncomplicated and participants are still open to an array of new impressions, new ideas, cooperative work and change. At the same time, many of the international formats are also open for target groups that are not directly in contact with the university.

The incentive to not get complacent

In Munich, the SCE is not the only entrepreneurship center at a university. How do you collaborate with other centers: cooperation or competition?

In my eyes, collaboration between the entrepreneurship centers is extremely fruitful for the centers themselves and also for the entire Munich ecosystem. I really value my colleagues and we get along really well on a personal level as well. As a result, we tackle projects together if we are convinced that we can handle them jointly better than we could by ourselves. The Social Entrepreneurship Akademie that I already mentioned, for example, has become an integral part of the ecosystem and MUC Summit GmbH, which we founded together, would like to help with the MUST Summit, an international network of startups, companies, universities and political institutions in Munich. Of course each center is also highly motivated to offer the best formats. I view that as an incentive for all of us to not get too complacent and instead to continue to develop and remain attractive.

Do MUAS and other Munich universities approach entrepreneurship differently? Is there a substantial difference among the students and their inclination to start a company?

Every university has its own target group and its own profile. At MUAS, we want to support all faculties equally, which is why we promote technical, non-technical and social projects to an equal extent. The areas of focus are somewhat different depending on the orientation of the university. Our aim is to support a transdisciplinary understanding and to show the teams what a powerful tool they have in the form of entrepreneurship to independently shape their own lives and (at least a little bit of) the world. That’s why personal development of individuals, working in a team and supporting systemic thinking in an ecosystem play an important role in both our qualification program and in startup support.
A major difference is certainly that universities have more PhD students, which means they also carry out more research projects. These projects have a great deal of innovative potential. Our founders are most often students or alumni. We are also quickly catching up in the field of applied research and are able to get our students more and more excited about the idea of founding a company.

At MUAS, we are also working on expanding the understanding of entrepreneurship to include the field of co-creation and to develop new innovations through cooperation among professors, researchers, students, companies, social organizations and political institutions.

“We have a great pioneering spirit at the moment”

The startup scene in Munich has grown significantly in recent years. How do you think the Munich ecosystem stands up in an international comparison?

Without question, there’s been a lot happening in the startup realm in Munich in recent years. A multitude of different supporters – such as ministries, the city, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK), universities, companies… – are committed to making a difference. It’s great to be a part of this kind of process.

How far along are we compared to other ecosystems? The answer is different depending on the perspective you take. Munich has been compared with Berlin quite often in recent years. That’s like comparing apples with oranges. The entrepreneurial ecosystem in Berlin is much more visible to the outside world. There are many independent initiatives that promote the subject, students are more willing to take a risk, rent is cheaper, international visibility is more pronounced and the readiness to embrace change is certainly greater. In Munich, by contrast, opportunity costs are higher. Potential founders have to decide between a well-paid job and an unstable startup. Those, however, who go beyond the “we are who we are” comfort zone and decide to found a company are then very serious about it and their likelihood of success is comparatively high.

At the same time, startups in Munich are “lucky enough” to come in contact with many successful large and medium-sized companies. While that does shift the focus of the ecosystem and also means competition, it also offers a multitude of opportunities for cooperation. In my mind, we are still lagging behind with the development of our entrepreneurial ecosystem by international standards due to the previous focus on successful companies because it took some time for us to introduce the necessary dynamics and to properly network and orchestrate the different players. But we have a great pioneering spirit at the moment. That’s because all of the stakeholders are aware of the unique opportunity presented by being able to develop and live out our own model for an ecosystem that combines the strength of the economy with the innovative power of startups and existing social systems.