Elaborations by Valerie Daldrup, zentrale Koordinierungsstelle, Thüringer Hochschulgründernetzwerk

3-Sentence Pitch on the local Startup Ecosystem

Thuringia has a very diverse startup ecosystem with a fertile ground for young entrepreneurs to push forward their ideas. Unique is the concentration of creative forces rooted in the Bauhaus tradition in Weimar and the high-tech industries especially clustered around the universities and research institutes in Jena, Ilmenau and beyond. Although Thuringia is a quite small federal state, its startups are regularly very successful in startup competitions around Germany and establish a solid cornerstone of the corporate landscape.

Regional Hubs

The main metropolitan areas are mainly along the autoroute A4 and railway line – starting from the West with Eisenach as the main automotive location, going through Erfurt as the main capital, Weimar, Jena and finally Gera. But also beyond this central city chain, cities like Ilmenau offer important research clusters for startups. The Thuringian cities are located in 1 to max 3 hr. radius from cities like Frankfurt, Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden or Nürnberg.

  • Central: In central Thuringia, Erfurt and Weimar are the main hubs. Erfurt is one of the most dynamically growing cities in the Eastern part of Germany with focus industries like IT, microtechnologies, media, and logistics. Weimar is the cultural and creative heart.
  • East: Jena one of the most prosperous high-tech cities in Eastern Germany and a traditional center of the optics/photonics industry and home of many young high-tech companies – from optics, ICT or life sciences. The Friedrich Schiller University, the University of Applied Sciences and a broad range of research institutes are permanent incubators of new innovative solutions with a huge potential for industrial application. Jena’s industrial tradition is a good example of how a close of cooperation of universities and industry has paved the way for the growth of companies like Zeiss and Schott – also providing impetus to the surrounding areas.
  • South-West: Ilmenau/Schmalkalden has its core competencies in the areas of Laser Technology, Rapid Tooling, Robotics as well as its specialist areas in Fine and Micromechanics, Precision Components, Mechatronics, Automation
  • North: University of Applied Sciences Nordhausen with the two departments for Engineering and Economic and Social Sciences. The research priorities are  Green Tech with reference to energy, material and land resources, Management and Governance, Social and Health Services,  Sensory Laboratory

Sectoral Focus of the Startup Ecosystem

Thuringia offers a diverse ecosystem of startups from IT, high-tech industries like optics/photonics or life sciences in Eastern Thuringia, applied engineering in the southern and eastern part and a strong media and creative scene in central Thuringia. The mainly reflect the research and industrial focus of their geographical locations and support a steady rejuvenation. Startups in Thuringia are mainly active in the B2B sector.

Local Financing Landscape/Presence of VCs

The beteiligungsmanagement thüringen GmbH (bm-t) is the second strongest VC player that is publicly funded on a federal level in Germany. Each year the Investor Days in Erfurt are in focus of VCs from all over Germany and give startups a perfect platform to pitch on the stage and talk to investors. Also, several local initiatives of university campuses are perfect to meet investors, e.g. like the VC campus in Ilmenau. The business angel scene is not as strong as in other federal states but for smaller ventures a perfect match.

Presence and Industrial Focus of Established Industries

Multinational powerhouses such as Carl Zeiss and Schott started their business in Thuringia. Today, they set international standards worldwide. Jenoptik is the largest high-tech manufacturing company in the Eastern federal states with operations worldwide. Large companies like Bosch, Opel, Continental or Siemens are present in Thuringia but mainly for services and manufacturing. The real strength of the mainly SME dominated corporate landscape is its agility to organize in networks which also include young startup companies. For more company information also see http://www.invest-in-thuringia.de.

Presence of Incubators/Accelerators

The main incubators or accelerators are not located in Thuringia but the universities offer free office space, infrastructure and advice for startups that are linked to the university or its ecosystem – here international applicants are always welcome (more information: www.hochschul-gruendernetzwerk.de). Also the ThEx – the Thuringian center for startups & entrepreneurship – pools infrastructure and advice of many cooperation partners that dedicate their work to startups under one roof (for more see http://www.thex.de/).

In the metropolitan areas also several application center, as well as technology and startup center, are located that offer high-tech infrastructure at a reasonable price (for more see: http://www.cluster-thueringen.de/innovationsstrategie/partner-akteure/technologiezentren/).

Presence of Research Institutes and Universities

Around 40 institutes, institutions of higher learning, and research initiatives are located in Thuringia, including nine state-sponsored universities and universities of applied sciences. They cover all fields of interest from a technical focus, applied to engineer to life science or architecture and music. On top, there are several institutions of the Fraunhofer Society, Max-Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, Leibniz Association, and Helmholtz Association. At the Beutenberg Campus in Jena over 3,000 researchers and roughly 50 biotech and medical technology companies are clustered.

More information about the startup activities of the universities is linked on the page of the University Start-up Network Thuringia (www.hochschul-gruendernetzwerk.de).

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