The EXIST start-up grant supports students, graduates and scientists from universities and non-university research institutions who want to realize their start-up idea and turn it into a business plan. The start-up projects should be innovative technology-oriented or knowledge-based projects with significant unique selling points and good prospects of economic success. One example of this at Hof University is the “Businettes”. Prof. Dr. Michael Seidel had a talk with them.
Let’s start at the very beginning: How did you become aware of the EXIST-Gründerstipendium?
We had heard about Exist in the past through our network, but thought this grant was really reserved for Rocket Science topics in engineering, so we hadn’t looked into it further. We really became aware of it after talking to the Berlin founders of “Equalista”, who developed a gender equality app and were funded by Exist
We were positively surprised that an online platform or, in their case, an app with an innovative approach and social impact – i.e. similar to our project – was being funded. In a conversation at the beginning of 2020, the founders encouraged us to apply for Exist, which we did shortly thereafter.
You can choose to apply for many startup networks across Germany. What factors of the startup ecosystem made you decide to do it here in Hof?
From the outset, it was important to us to cooperate with a university that has experience in applying for EXIST startup grants and is also well positioned digitally. The university had to be a good fit for us in terms of content – after all, Businettes is a digital product
After intensive research, Hof University of Applied Sciences, with its numerous digital study programs and positive initial discussions with our mentors Prof. Dr. Andreas Wagener and Prof. Dr. Michael Seidel, seemed to us to be the ideal institution for supporting our EXIST application.Team “Businettes”
In addition, the ecosystem of the connected startup center Einstein 1 at Hof University of Applied Sciences is another crucial point that reinforced our decision.
Many studies show a below-average share of female founders in the total number of startups, usually about one third. You want to change that. Give us an insight into your business model and show us where you want to start…
That’s right. The number of female founders in the startup ecosystem is a maximum of 15% across Europe. We want to help diversify the economy in that direction and encourage more women to start up.
With Businettes, we are developing a digital pre-incubator platform for this purpose, which includes comprehensive, gamified startup training to help women turn their startup ideas into a “pitch perfect” business case. One of the main reasons why women start up less than men is often a lack of confidence in their own abilities. To change this, we work with psychologically based methods to increase the self-confidence of our female clients.
In addition, we help them improve their business and pitch skills by basing our training on methods such as the Business Model Canvas as well as integrated pitch training.
We also enter into strategic collaborations to offer our female users the best possible perks to facilitate their everyday startup life. Currently, we are already cooperating with the baby-sitter platform “MyMary” for aspiring female founders with children, the entrepreneur-benefits platform “JoinSecret” for discounted access to software services such as Typeform or WordPress and Europe’s most affordable co-working provider “Twostay”.
Unlike other (pre-)incubator programs, Businettes also welcomes solo entrepreneurs. We also want to make the automated features of the platform as accessible as possible in terms of price: there will be a subscription starting at €15 per month.
Is there already a prototype or something to look at?
Actually, a prototype already exists and we have also already tested our plan with a dozen women. However, our prototype is not public. We will use the coming year to develop a first version of the platform, which we hope you will be able to see for yourselves in the spring. Currently you are welcome to visit our website: www.businettes.com
EXIST is a very attractive funding program, but the hurdles for successful funding are high. How long did the process take until you received a successful grant and what challenges did you have to face?
Phew, our “Exist journey” was quite something. We contacted the Hof University of Applied Sciences in April and from then on it took about 8 months until we received the final notification of funding. From April to the end of May, we worked non-stop on the application and often changed everything again. In August, we received the news that our application had a chance of being approved – but only if we could prove that Businettes also had a true technological innovation value. We didn’t even have two weeks to completely revise our application and then quickly organized a hackathon in Munich at top speed to further “techify” Businettes together with many smart tech heads
The effort was worth it: a few weeks later we received the news that our application had been approved. It took another few weeks until the end of November until everything was cleared administratively. Since the beginning of December, however, we now have the approval notice in black and white – finally!
What advice would you give to founders who are also considering applying for an EXIST start-up grant?
Exist is a really great opportunity to advance a start-up project. Unlike other funding opportunities, there is no interest to be repaid or shares to be surrendered – which brings a great deal of (financial) independence for founding teams!
However, anyone who wants to apply for Exist should definitely have a lot of discipline and stamina. Often the application has to be rewritten several times and you will also question your start-up project completely from time to time. But regardless of whether or not your application is approved, you will learn a lot of new things about your project during the Exist application process and come up with new ideas that can only benefit your start-up project.