This article is syndicated from the “Innovation” section at ETH News. It was written by Angelika Jacobs and published on 20.2.2014. You can access the original article here as well as the German version here.
No matter what the business idea may be, start-up founders all face the same challenge: the lack of a business network. ETH Zurich has now started a Founders Community to foster more interaction between the 350 existing ETH spin-offs.
What do the founders of an IT start-up and a biotech company have in common? The former may only need a computer whereas the latter requires an expensive laboratory infrastructure and countless authorisation documents. But no matter what the business idea is, all start-up founders face the same questions, especially if they have just left university to enter the mysterious world of business. How do I assess the market potential of my product? Who could design a professional website for my company? Who are the best freelancers for software solutions?
“Alone, it would take us forever to find answers to all these questions. In the community, it takes just minutes”, said Sunnie Tölle at the ETH Founders Community kick-off event. Tölle, who started her own business called Inspire 925, works together with the ETH spin-off Beekeeper to support ETH’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab (ieLab ) in setting up the founders’ network. The goal is to facilitate interaction between the spin-off founders. Examples of successful founders’ networks of this kind can be found in the US, for instance at Yale University.
The same idea could be implemented at ETH because ETH spin-off founders would like to connect more with others in the same situation, says Christian Grossmann of Beekeeper. A survey has revealed that over 75 percent of the participating ETH spin-off founders would like to have more interactions with other founders.
A Business Network
“ETH has a well-developed network with other universities around the globe, but what we lack is a business network that could help our spin-off founders”, says Roland Siegwart, ETH Vice President for Research and Corporate Relations. This should change now thanks to the ETH Founders Community. According to Siegwart, “this is the perfect place for wild – but well-thought-out – ideas”. The goal is to support young talents in developing their ideas into a business strategy. In this way, ETH can contribute to society and the innovative strength of Switzerland.
Ian Roberts, CTO of Bühler AG, also stresses how important it is to have a network, to know whom to ask and whom to trust. Roberts supports the ETH Founders Community as an experienced coach and mentor. He himself had several mentors along the way and thinks it very important to have someone to guide you through the business world and give you honest feedback.
Get up and Go out
“Some of the ETH spin-offs are situated closely together at the Technopark Zurich, and the doors are open. But if you don’t get up and go out, you rarely get into contact with others”, says Matthias Hölling, who works at ETH Transfer. To help with the “getting up and going out”, the ETH Founders Community offers not only an online platform for interaction but also socialising events, from weekly lunch seminars to organising a team of 14 for the next Sola relay race in May.
In the same way that you’re glad you don’t have to run the whole 116.1 kilometres of the relay race all by yourself, most spin-off founders welcome the support they get by exchanging knowledge and experience on their way through the maze of the modern business world. The ETH Founders Community is off to a good start: the excitement and team spirit at the kick-off event were tangible.