Munich Startup: How is Fraunhofer Venture set up to bring founders and researchers together?
Chinyere Wirthmüller, Fraunhofer Venture: Ahead is the company builder within Fraunhofer. The CoLab is a subprogram of Ahead that supports collaborative projects between scientists and startups.
The process for startups is as follows: The CoLab offers a preparation phase for Ahead for Fraunhofer startup collaboration programs, which begins with a cooperation kickoff. At the cooperation kickoff, the tandem groups find out which requirements need to be fulfilled for an Ahead grant as well as the best way to start and implement the project. On top of that, each partner institute receives 5,000 euros of kickoff funding to apply for Ahead.
The tandems that fulfill the requirements are then invited to our four-day Ahead Bootcamp. At the end of the bootcamp, there’s a pitch session to decide who will be accepted to the first phase of Ahead. After a successful pitch, the startup’s partner institute is granted a project budget of 50,000 euros that is to be used for the joint project. The first phase lasts between six weeks and six months.
The goal: to license Fraunhofer technology to the startup
In this phase, the CoLab also offers special workshops that are specifically for Fraunhofer startup collaboration.
After the tandem has reached a certain degree of maturity with their project – based on some criteria regarding the market, product, team and legal issues – they can apply for phase two. The institute can once again apply for a project budget of no more than of 100,000 euros. The aim of all this is to be able to license out an existing Fraunhofer technology to the startup at the end of phase two.
Munich Startup: The CoLab aims to make the Ahead program accessible to external startups – how does that work exactly?
Chinyere Wirthmüller, Fraunhofer Venture: The CoLab not only gives external startups access to more formats and workshops within the framework of the Ahead program, but also offers a much higher project budget for the partner institutes. When a tandem successfully completes all of the phases, the partner institute can receive funding of up to 155,000 euros for the joint project.
Munich Startup: How exactly does collaboration between startups and Fraunhofer institutes work within the CoLab framework? How do startups benefit?
Chinyere Wirthmüller, Fraunhofer Venture: The goal of the collaboration is technology transfer. More specifically, existing Fraunhofer technology should be integrated into the startup’s product. In legal terms, the aim is a licensing agreement between Fraunhofer and the startup: The startup receives Fraunhofer technology and the institute receives licenses. All of the benefits can also be found here.
In concrete terms, I would say: access to Fraunhofer technology as well as methodological and financial support for its implementation.
How that collaboration is executed varies. As soon as they are matched up and have been accepted to Ahead, we view the tandem as a team that would like to put a product on the market and still needs to put in work to do that. So that means regular meetings, task delegation and so on.
Important: The startup must have a concreate technological need
Munich Startup: When is a startup a good fit for the CoLab? And what steps are taken if a startup hasn’t been in contact with a cooperation partner from Fraunhofer yet?
Chinyere Wirthmüller, Fraunhofer Venture: Two requirements need to be met:
- The startup must have a very specific technological need. And that technological need has to be essential for the business that is planned for the future – a ‘product feature’ on its own is not enough.
- It needs to be a Fraunhofer technology that already exists, is proprietary and can be licensed out later on.
And it’s not a problem if a startup hasn’t been in contact with Fraunhofer yet. That’s what we’re here for. All they need to have is a very specific technological need. Startups can then get in touch with us for matching. We’ll take care of the rest. We look for the right technology and then connect the startup with a potential Fraunhofer partner.
Munich Startup: Do you already have success stories that you can share?
Chinyere Wirthmüller, Fraunhofer Venture: Yes, we do. Because it’s still the same offer as from Techbridge, you have success stories like Monitorfish, Mecorad, Occulavis, Adiutabyte and quite a few others.
Munich Startup: What’s the best case scenario for a startup after collaboration?
Chinyere Wirthmüller, Fraunhofer Venture: After the Ahead program, startups have a chance of getting an FTTF investment. Fraunhofer Tech Transfer Fund is an early stage VC firm that can invest early on in startups that are predominantly based on Fraunhofer technology. The firm has already invested in four external startups that use Fraunhofer technology in their products.