On March 10, 2015, the accelerator program “upCAT” of the KIT Founders Forge ended in applause on the final Demo Day. After twelve weeks of intensive work, the six participating teams presented their business model to an expert audience consisting of business angels, venture capitalists, and Karlsruhe network partners. Six entirely different teams participated in the upCAT #3:
- ChromX: Software for chromatography modeling for process development and robustness studies for the biopharmaceutical industry
- LehrWerk: Construction kits as teaching materials for prospective engineers and technicians
- Paralution: Software and consulting to accelerate the calculation of computer-supported simulation
- Softtop: Weatherproof covering for bicycles and e-bikes
- Storrays: Technology for manufacturing ultra-high density peptide arrays
- tego energy: Energy supply modules for energy harvesting
All teams were able to excite the audience and received valuable feedback on their business cases. The teams were also very well prepared to answer critical questions. This shows that the hard work of the past three months moved the teams forward in their development. In addition to coaching, intensive workshop days, and regular progress pitches, the teams contacted their potential customers directly to validate their product and to develop it in a customer-oriented way. All teams were assisted by an experienced mentor with a practical and industry-specific experience.
One of the mentors was Dr. Joachim Bernecker. He supervised the scientific startup team ChromX. But on Demo Day, he also evaluated all teams from the perspective of an investor. “I think the idea behind upCAT is a good one, and I wanted to pass my entrepreneurial know-how to young founders. It was a joy to see the excellent pitches on Demo Day as a result.” The challenges for the prospective founders are now to act as entrepreneurs in real-world business scenarios and to accelerate the business processes.
While Clemens von Bojničić-Kninski had felt his way into the topic of business startups at the 2014 summer school, he now participated in upCAT #3 with his team, Storrays. The team was brought together to drive the startup idea of Dr. Alexander Nesterov-Müller forward. “Our goal was to develop a sustainable business model from the idea. The professional support and evaluation by experts were a great help in doing so,” Bojničić-Kninski states. Participants highly valued working together with mentors, whose helpful tips and proximity to industry contributed quickly to optimization. Exchanging ideas on equal footing with other startup teams was also valued. Thiemo Huuk of the team ChromX explains, “Practical problems could be discussed with one another. This gave us clear feedback and tips from like-minded people. The solution approaches of others were very valuable for us.”
Paul Holger Brée, another mentor at upCAT, also looks back on the cooperation with teams very positively. “What was especially interesting to me was the maturation process and the development of participants over the course of the past twelve weeks.” Brée considers the next challenges to be building the team structure and finding a healthy balance between growth and financing in company structure.
Nearly all teams were encouraged by upCAT in their startup plans and were able to work their business ideas into a marketable concept. They began planning their next steps for 2015. Among others, these included applying for a funding program, official startup, and first sales. We wish all teams continued success on the path to becoming entrepreneurs. The KIT Founders Forge team will also continue to be available for assistance.
At this point, we would also like to thank our EnBW Innovationscampus team! With their support, the upCAT teams were able to work on their projects in an inspiring atmosphere.