Fraunhofer Starts Start-up Offensive  


The Fraunhofer Society has a new program for founding high-tech companies. The starting signal for the first 30 candidates for the AHEAD program was a few days ago. The chances of success for new start-ups are good – also because the establishment of a 60 million euro fund for technology transfer projects has been decided.


The fund with the name Fraunhofer Tech Transfer Fund (FTTF) is unique in its form, because for the first time money from the European Investment Fund (EIF) is channeled into technology transfer from a public research institution in Germany. As part of the European Commission’s InnovFin program, the EIF and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft will jointly establish the FTTF to market the intellectual property of Germany’s 72 specialist Fraunhofer institutes and research facilities. The total volume of the fund is EUR 60 million, which comes from various sources. The Fraunhofer Tech Transfer Fund receives funds from the equity instrument for early-stage financing “InnovFin Equity” as part of Horizon 2020, the research and innovation program of the EU. In addition, money comes from the ERP-EIF umbrella fund, a joint instrument of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and the EIF initiative to support the financing of SMEs and start-ups in Germany.


Young high-tech companies from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are to benefit from the new fund, which can be supported from the pre-seed phase with up to 250,000 euros and in further financing rounds with additional investments of up to 5 million euros. The Munich-based German Tech Transfer Management GmbH is responsible for supporting the FTTF. The company will exclusively take up and finance spin-offs and license models from the Fraunhofer institutes in the early stages of innovation. At the same time, it should create incentives to take the step from science to application. Promising projects could then seek investments from established early-stage financiers such as the High-Tech Gründerfonds.


Overlapping with the new financing instrument, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has also reorganized the way in which spin-offs are funded and supported. At the end of February, for example, the AHEAD program was presented, which aims to “significantly increase the start-up intensity and speed of high-tech start-ups in Germany”. Entrepreneurs, scientists and experts work together for up to 24 months in so-called high-impact teams, in which the different perspectives and technical orientations are orchestrated by professional coaches and accompanied from the development of ideas to marketability.


Unlike before, people outside of Fraunhofer research are also to be integrated into the teams via the AHEAD program.


The first AHEAD boot camp with 30 teams took place at the end of February (here the live ticker). Topics were artificial intelligence, industry 4.0, digital medicine, energy storage systems and new materials. A jury decides who will be accepted into the program after the boot camp.


The AHEAD program is organized by the Fraunhofer Venture department, which has existed since 1999. In the 20 years of its existence, more than 500 start-up projects have been spun off by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. According to Fraunhofer Venture, around 97% of all spin-offs were still active three years after they were founded. In any case, the hopes and expectations associated with the new AHEAD program are high. Thorsten Lambertus, Chief Acceleration Officer of AHEAD, stated the ambitious goal of “achieving a top position among international company building programs in the medium term”.

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