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Ruhr Universität Bochum: Building an International Ecosystem During a Pandemic

Elena Galán-Muros

A warm welcome to Ruhr-Universität Bochum, one of UIIN’s newest organisational members. While we already got acquainted during several UIIN events, it was a pleasure to speak again with Meike Schaich, International Network Manager at the International Office and Vanessa Vaughn, Project Coordinator of Worldfactory International, the international programme of the university’s start-up center, to learn more about the university and its recent activities to boost entrepreneurship and transfer.

Located in the heart of Europe, Ruhr-Universität Bochum has established itself as a powerful scientific institution and a regional connector. Working closely with the city of Bochum as well as industry, students and researchers are encouraged to develop their entrepreneurial skills and transfer their scientific results into industry and society. In recent years, the emphasis on transfer and entrepreneurship has grown even further thanks to the establishment of the Worldfactory Start-up Center in 2019, followed by the launch of Worldfactory International last year.

We wanted to help our start-ups internationalise on the one hand, but also put our university on the map as a destination for international start-ups or scientists that have a business idea”

With the Worldfactory Start-up Center, the university aims to raise awareness for entrepreneurship as well as develop support and funding programs, events, and consulting, to guide students and scientists in developing their entrepreneurial ideas. In five different incubators, solutions are created in specific expertise areas, including IT Security, Chemistry, Materials, Smart Systems and Health. This has been especially fruitful in the IT security field, where many successful start-ups already emerged as part of incubator Cube 5. To help these start-ups enter the international markets, the idea of an international project soon emerged. “We wanted to help our start-ups internationalise on the one hand, but also put our university on the map as a destination for international start-ups or scientists that have a business idea”, tells Vanessa. Worldfactory International therefore tries to establish an international ecosystem, especially in the fields of entrepreneurship and transfer, to become a strong link for both incoming and outgoing research-based start-ups.

The Worldfactory International team has also been active in establishing relationships through strategic networking trips, starting with the North American region. Despite their digital format due to the pandemic, the first virtual trips to the United States and Canada were a great success, leading to several new partners through participation in the Canadian Collision Conference, a Market Entry programme with the German American Chamber of Commerce and a collaborative event on supporting start-ups and research transfer with several universities and research institutes in the United States and Canada. To further boost the development of an international ecosystem, Meike was interested to join UIIN for the opportunity to connect with innovative universities and businesses around the globe.

This September, the team hopes to get back to on-site networking, while piloting a two-week bootcamp for international “sciencepreneurs”, to help researchers and master students from abroad implement their ideas with a possible fit for the German market. The next country to explore is Japan, where the team will take a delegation of start-ups and researchers interested in expanding their network on a trip to find cooperation partners. “We would like to establish exchange programs with other universities in the field of entrepreneurship, but also find corporations that could help our start-ups with the development of their business ideas – and who could also potentially be customers as we have a strong b2b market in our region”, tells Vanessa.

Entrepreneurship has a different vibe – you have to put yourself out there before the solution is perfect and you are always adapting your business model or product”

Building an international network during a global pandemic has inevitably proven challenging. Not only to shift to virtual events, but also to bring all university activities spread over 20 faculties and 9 research departments together in one center. As Meike explains: “Worldfactory is a brand for all the transfer and entrepreneurship activities at the university and when we started to put it in a frame it was really difficult to put all the entrepreneurship and transfer activities together that have already been on campus– and on top of this we are trying to connect them internationally”. Furthermore, encouraging students and researchers to engage in entrepreneurial activities and transfer in the first place, also demands a mindset that does not automatically match with the culture of research. As Vanessa emphasises: “Researchers focus on perfectionism, trying to have perfect results for publishing, while entrepreneurship has a different vibe – you have to put yourself out there before the solution is perfect and you are always adapting your business model or product”.

To accomplish such a ‘culture’ shift, the university has started integrating more challenge-based learning programmes on entrepreneurial teaching for students to develop entrepreneurial competences. In these programmes, students not only learn how to develop a business plan, but also work on real life challenges, and collaborate with students from different fields to develop hands-on solutions. Furthermore, Worldfactory keeps close ties with successful start-ups that emerged from the university, who are happy to give advice and share connections with beginning start-ups as role models. Their Founder Talks – little events where entrepreneurs are invited to share their experiences across the different fields of entrepreneurship – have so far proven the most successful strategy. “They capture the audience the most”, tells Meike. “This more informal exchange of experience is something that actually really motivates for entrepreneurship”.

Higher level support structures have also been of great help in accelerating the entrepreneurship and transfer activities across the university, especially after the establishment of a dedicated department in 2015. With around 30-40 staff members working in the field of entrepreneurship spread over all faculties, students and researchers can be easily reached and activated from within their own faculty. Moreover, with transfer being one of the pillars next to research and teaching in the university’s 3-pillar management model, even more emphasis is placed on the topic. Therefore, the university is currently also developing a joint mission statement to define the topic of transfer as well as their mission in the field. Just in time for the high-tech city quarter MARK 51ᵒ7 that is being built on a former Opel manufacturing site to house research buildings, companies, and start-ups. With Ruhr-Universität Bochum in charge of the project, the aim of the new campus is to boost transfer by creating an exchange space as well as a start-up ‘Makerspace’, with additional space for the transfer between university and industry partners inside and outside the campus.

Working amid all these exciting developments, the Worldfactory team is eager to connect and exchange experiences with other universities and businesses within the UIIN Community. “If you want to create joint projects or exchange experience on how to foster transfer and entrepreneurship at universities, we are happy to connect and see what we can create together!”.



Meike Schaich & Vanessa Vaughn

Want to learn more about Ruhr-Universität Bochum and its Start-up Center or share any thoughts?
Get in contact with the Worldfactory International team (Vanessa Vaughn, Annika Engelbert and Meike Schaich) via email,
or learn more by visiting their website and watching this video.


Image credits: Ruhr Universität Bochum

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