“It’s the nature of a start-up to implement new ideas quickly”

Managing Director Marc Kley on how to deal with the effects of the corona pandemic in the Excellence Start-up Center.

The corona pandemic is causing situations in all areas of life to which no one has previously been able to adjust and raises the question for many: What is the next step?
The Excellence Start-up Center (ESC) at the University of Cologne and its start-ups are also trying to find ways to deal with the rapidly changing events. Marc Kley, Managing Director of the ESC, has known the start-up scene at the University of Cologne and in the city for many years. In the interview he reports how the newly founded ESC is dealing with this crisis situation, what the project is planning despite the Corona pandemic and how the ESC start-ups are working during this time.

How does the corona pandemic influence the Excellence Start-up Center and how does the ESC team support those interested in founding and transferring their own businesses?

We have to adapt to the new conditions and learn to deal with the uncertainty of the next months. We are no different from anyone else. However, we have very quickly switched our consulting services to telephone and video conferencing so that there are no interruptions to our services. We support our start-ups in their home office situations with all our might. Our start-up coaches in particular are very active in this respect. Here too, they are in daily contact with the start-up teams and answer urgent questions, find solutions and put you in touch with contact persons from our network.

A good network is certainly more important than ever in these times.

It is a central aspect of our work to create a good network from which our start-ups can benefit. In general, we work very closely with our partners. This is of course also a great advantage in times of crisis. Our partners, such as the City of Cologne Economic Development Agency, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Digitalhub Cologne or the NRW Bank, work with us to help our start-ups find support and contact partners for specific problems. In general, I experience the Cologne ecosystem and the network of Cologne universities, for example within the framework of the university start-up network cologne (hgnc), as very active and solution-oriented in these times.

What can universities offer those interested in setting up a company – even in these times?

Universities as such are an ideal environment, as this is where the scientific know-how lies and where many innovations are created. This creates an excellent milieu for knowledge-based start-up ideas. At the same time, those interested in setting up their own business have direct access to students and scientists who are just starting out or have already started. You can get inspiration and advice for your own projects from them. It is precisely at the University of Cologne in the Excellence Start-up Center that we create this exchange platform and a support system. Students can do internships with our start-ups or grow into them as employees. In this way, they experience first-hand the entrepreneurial spirit and what it means to found a start-up.
At the University of Cologne, various student initiatives such as the Entrepreneurs Club Cologne or Enactus complement the range of offers. Here, they quickly gain access to a vital community that enriches the university’s start-up ecosystem.

How are the ESC start-ups currently doing?

Our start-ups are doing well. They have no major worries yet, but are starting their own activities to help others in these unsettling times. Our start-ups LOLOCO and VYTAL, for example, have launched online initiatives to support the German retail and gastronomy sectors. It is great to see how our start-ups are using their know-how to make a contribution in this situation. After all, it is also part of the nature of a start-up to quickly implement new ideas. A number of projects are currently being initiated to help in the crisis. We at ESC are of course very happy to support these projects.

What is planned for the next few months?

Irrespective of the crisis, we want to expand the range of services we have developed with the GATEWAY start-up service and add various modules. We would like to strengthen networking and exchange between science, industry, our start-ups and the Cologne universities that are actively involved in the start-up sector.
We are already strengthening our consulting services with a larger coaching team. This will enable us to respond more individually to the different needs of our start-ups in the future. In addition, we will be redesigning an accelerator program in the coming months. In addition, we are expanding our support program and will establish an alumni club for our start-ups.

At the moment, it is not possible to offer events and courses in attendance at the University of Cologne. However, the University is currently preparing a digital semester. How does the Excellence Start-up Center deal with the contact restrictions imposed by the state?

We have immediately set up our advisory services for start-ups and for all those interested in founding a company to include telephone and digital advice. We are also working on the topic of “digitisation” in our ESC programme anyway. On the one hand, we will create courses on digitisation skills for students and scientists*. This includes topics such as app development or prototype construction. On the other hand, a digital course offering on the subject of “Strategic Business Toolkit” is being developed in the Faculty of Economic Sciences to teach students entrepreneurial thinking and acting across the board and as a supplement to the curriculum. Further seminars and workshops will follow online, should the situation continue. For example, we are currently developing a digital version of a Design Thinking Workshop for the Faculty of Philosophy, which of course was originally planned as a classroom format.

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