Germany has a large research landscape and globally recognised minds in all areas of science. Nevertheless, compared to other countries, very few of them found their own companies. A new study by the Technical University of Munich provides answers and directs the focus towards psychology.
Number three in the number of specialist publications, number five in patent applications, as well as high research and development expenditures, which flow to universities in Germany significantly more often than in the USA or China, for example. These are actually perfect conditions for a lively start-up scene at German universities. Nevertheless, just one-third of those in North America, for example, found their own company here – the campuses of the Republic are no exception.
A study now published by the Technical University of Munich (TUM) states that this cannot be explained by the reality of researchers’ work and the supposed lack of venture capital alone. According to the study’s leaders, it is above all psychological factors that are responsible for the weakness of German scientists in setting up their own businesses.
Researcher vs. entrepreneurial mindset
With regard to the individual scientist, the mindset is often a major obstacle. The meticulous scientific mindset differs significantly from the more pragmatic entrepreneurial mindset. The latter is characterised by not thinking everything through to the last detail and by focusing on the needs of customers at an early stage. According to the authors, however, this often stands in stark contrast to the claim of researchers to be searching for the technological optimum – the result is a role conflict that is almost impossible to resolve.
Stress meets team
At the same time, founding a company always means enormous stress. Product development, putting together and maintaining a team, acquiring capital and dealing with the authorities all take a toll on the nerves of founders. This strain can quickly overwhelm an individual. According to the study, it is all the more important to have a functioning team that can cushion this stress.
The emphasis here is on functioning. Because the study also showed that researchers often find it difficult to make decisions in interdisciplinary teams, to exploit the expertise of all team members and to agree on a common vision. According to the authors, failure as a team is the greatest obstacle to scientific start-up projects, along with the mindset.
What needs to change?
Against this backdrop, however, they also identify possible solutions and formulate concrete recommendations for universities in their study. For example, it is enormously important to create space for entrepreneurial ideas at an early stage, to use playful formats to inspire students to start their own businesses and to bring role models onto the stage who can show how a transition from research to entrepreneurship can succeed. In addition, the study advocates close support by start-up advisors who keep a close eye on the topic of team development and can provide advice if necessary.
Much of this is already done by beyourpilot and its partners. For example, in addition to comprehensive start-up advice, the programme now includes numerous workshops and formats that bring model founders onto the stage, support teams in team development and focus specifically on the needs of scientists. All of this should contribute to turning even more researchers into entrepreneurs in Hamburg in the future.
The complete results and recommendations of the study can be read in the final paper here: http://joachimherzstiftung.tilda.ws/forscher
The study leaders conducted research on the “psychology of starting a business” for three years. The aim was not only to present results but also best practices and to give universities concrete recommendations for action in order to encourage and enable more scientists to start up successfully.
The study is based on 2,700 evaluated questionnaires, a video study on decision-making with 52 teams, interviews with 12 founding teams and two years of participant observation at founding events.
The study was financed by the Joachim Herz Foundation.