German novices receive support

March 9, 2001

A German university has set up a business incubator to help entrepreneurial students turn their internet ideas into successful e-business ventures.

Frankfurt University's "unibator", the first of its kind in Germany, offers young start-up companies free offices, computer facilities and expert advice from professors for three months, to help them hatch their ideas into sound business plans.

"Entrepreneurs need no longer convert their kitchens into company headquarters," said Bernd Skiera, professor of e-commerce at Frankfurt and initiator of the unibator. "We will offer them a complete infrastructure."

The university provides the offices and advice for fledgling companies, while equipment and other support will be donated by industrial sponsors Deutsche Bank, Sun Microsystems, Dell and McKinsey.

The first two business ideas being nurtured in the unibator are an electronic bill presentment and payment system and an internet password system. Two more are in the pipeline.

After three months of intensive care, the young companies hope either to stand on their own feet or find other venture capital sponsors.

However, Professor Skiera warned against exaggerated expectations of huge profits on the Neue Markt. "The latest developments on the stock markets have shown that this will not generally be the case. But the internet still offers plenty of chances for small companies."

The Frankfurt unibator is open only to students and graduates with a connection to Frankfurt. But Professor Skiera, who was Germany's first professor of e-commerce, believes that it could serve as a model for other universities.

In the long term, the university might also take a stake in the private companies it has helped to nurture as a means of generating funding. The German government is urging universities to make more of their intellectual property.

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