Are you interested in the idea of founding a company, but still have questions? We have put together the most important questions and answers based on our experience. Yours is not included? No problem, then please contact us directly.
Questions about product, market and competition
- First of all, an idea is always worthwhile if you see a chance to solve a (market) problem with it. Talking about one’s ideas is an important part of the development and usually leads to an improvement of the concept. For fear that someone might steal the idea, founders shy away from this constructive confrontation. But always remember: no matter who you tell about your project, you are always at least one step ahead – every piece of feedback brings you further.
- We at the MPF Start-up Initiative would like to support you on this path with our own start-up experience and experience from working with other founders. Together we can look at your idea from different angles, give feedback and share experiences. We help you to validate the potential of your idea early in the start-up process and to set the right course for the success of your start-up at an early stage.
- In the process of a start-up, contact with customers and market experts often reveals new potentials that were not recognizable at the beginning. The opposite can also happen, namely that a potential was assessed too positively. We are also happy to help you find mentors, industry experts and other supporters for your project.
- A product is only successful if it has a particularly large advantage over existing solutions. So many elements come together. Of course, successful Max Planck spin-offs are characterized by an excellent technical basis and a strong technical team in the implementation. In addition, however, the successful transfer into a product that fits the needs of the market and the subsequent marketing are central aspects. Excellent products must also be communicated excellently and adapted to the needs of the customers. The product must offer the target group real added value for which they are also prepared to pay accordingly. Because in the end, your customers decide on the success or failure of your product. It is also important to have a sensible cost structure that for example, allows you to finance the further development of the product. Depending on the type of start-up, a high scalability of the product and/or a high entry barrier for other market participants/competitors can be very helpful.
- We help you to establish early contact with potential customers in order to validate the problem you are addressing and to understand the customers’ needs as precisely as possible.
- First of all, it is important to know more precisely what the market looks like, i.e. for whom the product is highly relevant, who is willing and able to pay for it, and what hurdles or shortcuts there may be in entering the market. In our own start-ups and with founders in our network, we have almost always seen a much clearer picture of the market emerge through conversations with potential customers.
- The type and size of the market for your product plays a central role in the strategy towards a successful start-up. The approaches vary depending on the nature of the market and the market share you are aiming for – estimating the size of the market can be as complex as you like. Especially in the start-up phase, it makes sense to keep it smart and simple: For example, you can research the sales of the biggest competitors and make intelligent assumptions. Use the paid online access of your institute, e.g. for Statista and publicly available statistics.
- You can see how the first access to a market analysis can be designed in the following videos as an example:
- When implementing the findings from this market analysis into a start-up’s strategy, it often makes sense to focus on an attractive niche in the market. This enables a clear differentiation from the competition and the chance to build up a positive reputation with the corresponding market knowledge. In addition, this focus helps us to make good use of our scarce start-up resources.
- Our experience is that focusing on one or two application scenarios is a strong marker for the success of a young company.
- The first step on the way to a patent or another form of protection for your invention and subsequent marketing is to report your invention. According to your employment contracts and the Employee Invention Act, you must report all work results or ideas that may have the character of an invention to the Max Planck Society, preferably via your institute management, and Max Planck Innovation. This is done within the framework of an invention disclosure. You will find this document and further information on the patenting and IP process on the Max Planck Innovation website.
- Would you like to use the patent you have applied for in your start-up? Then we will negotiate the necessary conditions with the patent and licensing managers of our partner Max Planck Innovation. These can be a potential shareholding, license fees, or other contractually agreed rights and obligations of use. Depending on whether your project is based on pure software and/or is patent-protected, there are specific licensing regulations. You can find the contact person responsible for your institute here.
Questions about Founding
How long the start-up process takes depends largely on you as the founder: Anything between one day and one year is possible. The maturity of your business model and the form of enterprise you choose have a significant influence on the complexity of the process. The formation of a simple GbR is easily possible in one day, provided you can get an appointment at your local authority at such short notice. As a rule, however, a reasonable formation takes about two months until all formalities have been clarified.
In principle, the form of enterprise you choose should suit your plans. In general, a limited liability company (GmbH) is the most frequently used form. This not only enables the limitation of liability to the company capital, but also facilitates the formal division of the rights and obligations of the founders as well as the addition of later shareholders, such as investors. Each form of enterprise also entails a necessary administrative burden, e.g. towards the tax office, which should be well considered. Especially in the beginning, keep your structure and company form lean so that you can concentrate on the essentials. If for example, you start with a simple GbR, this can later be expanded almost at will into another form of enterprise such as a GmbH (limited liability company) if it is successful.
The cost of setting up a company depends on the legal form you choose. The formation of a GbR costs a small fee at the municipality. A GmbH (limited liability company) is already considerably more expensive: at least 12,500 euros in share capital is required, a notary for the articles of association and various other fees.
- First of all, you should be convinced that it is the right path for you. Starting a business is a great experience and opportunity to change the world for the better and actively shape it. However, the life of a founder and budding entrepreneur also brings challenges.
- Usually, every start-up is a challenge that needs to be mastered. As an outstanding scientist, are you also willing to deal with challenges outside the scientific context? Because you absolutely have to be prepared for this. It is advisable to form at least a two-person team and to support each other in order to benefit from each other’s strengths. We would be happy to help you build and strengthen a suitable founding team.
Questions about Financing
- A business plan is unnecessarily a sword of Damocles for many founders. However, it is an effective aid to thoroughly plan one’s own project. In addition to providing orientation, a business plan gives external partners a clear overview of what the founder intends to do. It is a simple presentation of the start-up project and addresses the most important areas: Who are the founders? What is the product? What is the business model? Which market is being addressed? How is the marketing structured? How is the market entry planned?
- There is a lot of help available for writing a business plan. In principle, all business plans have a similar structure, but there are focal points that depend on the environment in which you are operating with your project. It is therefore advisable to first create a structure or outline and to coordinate this with the bank or incubator, for example, right at the beginning. Only when the structure of the plan has been established should you begin with the actual text.
- Always remember: KISS – Keep It Smart & Simple – concentrate on the essentials and keep it short. Our partner Max-Planck-Innovation supports you in this regard with individual coaching.
The financing options for your start-up are very diverse. Depending on your employment status, these can include state subsidies, grants, investments by business angels or VC providers, or equity capital and crowdfunding campaigns.
The total capital of your company is made up of equity and debt capital. The equity capital is the money that you yourself bring into the company, therefore your financial contribution to the foundation and thus, a foundation stone for actually implementing your business idea. As in other places, the amount of equity you need depends on your own idea and the related industry (running costs, effective costs of the formal foundation,…) – it is not possible to name a general sum. It is generally recommended that the equity capital should not be less than 20% of the required capital sum.
Relationship with the Max Planck Society before - during - after founding a company
We would be happy to work with you to find suitable funding. As this depends on the project and the stage of development, we will advise you individually – please do not hesitate to contact us!
The path from science to foundation is not usually completed ad hoc. There is usually a transitional period during which you should talk to the (research) group leader or the director about how you can organize this time by mutual agreement. Please also note that once the foundation is complete, you will generally no longer be an employee of the MPI. Another step is to secure the relevant property rights and initiate the clearing process – these two steps are usually the most time-consuming processes and should therefore be dealt with at an early stage.
- There is no participation or charging of royalties by the MPF Start-up Initiative.
- The MPS participates in spin-offs at market-standard and start-up-friendly conditions within the framework of a mixed participation-licensing model, since the MPS usually acts as the owner of the intellectual property rights at the time of the start-up. A license agreement is concluded between Max Planck Innovation and the spin-off company for the granting of exclusive rights of use to the protected MPS-owned technologies. Depending on whether your project is based on pure software and/or is patent-protected, there are specific licensing conditions. You can find the contact person responsible for your institute here.
- For more information on the participation process through Max Planck Innovation, please see the following page.
- The Clearing Departement is the first point of contact for scientists and staff of the institutes and the General Administration who are interested in founding a new company, as soon as preparations are being made for a spin-off from the MPG in the sense of technology transfer. The Clearing House examines each individual founding process for possible conflicts of interest.
- A typical example would be a start-up in which a co-founder wishes to continue to be employed by the MPG and at the same time become the managing director of the start-up.
- The Clearing House strives to process requests very quickly and the process can be completed in a matter of weeks. However, there are regular delays when misunderstandings arise, forms are filled out late, or the planned start-up structure has to be rethought. This can quickly lead to delays of several months. We introduce you to the right contacts as part of our Start-up School. The clearing process is a central step on the way to the foundation and delays can therefore unnecessarily hold up the foundation.
According to the Start-Up Journey, each phase holds the appropriate contact person for you – because in our experience, the biggest challenges begin with the successful start-up, which are reflected, for example, in further developments of the business model, in the growth of the team or even in investment issues.
Support from the MPG/MPF
The Max Planck Society supports spin-offs in many ways. These activities are bundled within the framework of the MAXpreneurs initiative. The Start-up Initiative of the Max Planck Foundation, Max Planck Innovation and the Planck Academy are all represented here. Would you like to get an overview of our services? Then contact us!
- After the initial contact, you will present your idea to us in a non-binding meeting. Based on this meeting, you will receive an Idea Assessment from us, which defines your idea and our possible support. Together, we discuss the phase you are in on this basis and, building on this, the next steps, e.g. by participating in our qualification offers or linking to the partners of the MAXpreneurs Initiative.
No, the Max Planck Foundation’s start-up consultation is completely free of charge. Even later, in the case of a spin-off, we do not claim any remuneration or participation in the company.
Please feel free to use our contact form – we will get back to you as soon as possible.
The start-up initiative can support you if there is a connection to research at the MPG Institutes
- You are currently an MPS scientist (working at an institute of the MPS) or have been within the last 3-5 years.
- The research is related to the (scientific) activities (results) and/or interests of the MPS or MPF.
- You are willing to show a certain commitment to your start-up project.
Questions about the founding team
In addition to well-known platforms such as founderio.com, there are numerous start-up events organized by universities, for example. The right contact person for this should be easy to find and may know of events outside the classic university environment. Go to such events! You are guaranteed to meet other ambitious founders and new team members. Ideally, you should register in advance and pitch your project to a group. If you are more introverted, these professional networking events offer enough space to present your project in a small circle.
As part of our offering, we help you in the area of co-founder matching.
A successful founding team complements each other on two levels: Professionally and personally. There is a reason that most successful founding teams divide the areas of technology and business among themselves. At the beginning of the project, the focus is on the technical development of the product – later, topics such as financing, sales and building up the organization become increasingly important. In all phases it is important that the founders strengthen each other so that everyone can concentrate on what they do best. Mutual respect for the suggestions of the co-founder is essential.