Pioneering scientific entrepreneurship at TUM Venture Labs
During the 2023 UIIN Conference, we had the chance to sit down with Philipp Gerbert, General Managing Director of TUM Venture Labs, to explore deep tech entrepreneurship, bridging talent gaps, and climate solutions. Learn how university and industry collaboration can drive innovation and help shape a more sustainable future.
In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:
Could you please tell me about TUM Venture Labs and the work that you do there?
I head TUM Venture Labs, which is a network of 11 deep tech labs, to foster science entrepreneurship across deep tech and life sciences.
Europe is currently facing quite a commercialization gap in deep tech, and it’s maybe finding it hard to harness the deep tech talent. What do you think universities and centres like TUM Venture Labs can do to really foster that deep tech talent?
First, universities should really establish entrepreneurship as a valid career model. There is a general part where you just foster entrepreneurship, so you give entrepreneurship courses, you can establish a university as a real hub for collaboration and so on.
And then, there is a specific part in deep tech where I think the university can do much more. It can mobilize its scientists, because in deep tech you need sometimes more experienced parts. I’m talking less about the professors, they don’t want to quit their job, but the PhDs, the postdocs and so that are still looking where to apply things.
The other thing to offer help in getting government funds. Deep tech often needs government funds to get going, particularly in healthcare, aerospace, climate technologies, etc. What we have also found quite useful is to offer prototyping grants so you can get to a stage where you are actually interesting to investors or other stakeholders.
So, supporting the students getting off the ground, and something that takes much more time, which is to get to market, and providing some lab space and tools so they can start developing their ideas is very important.
So much of entrepreneurship is an ecosystem and a collaborative effort. I would argue so much of it is about having a network. How can universities and industries collaborate more to bridge the talent gap?
I guess the challenge is how do you motivate industry? Industry loves to collaborate with universities on their own problems, but why should they work on entrepreneurial problems?”
What we have seen is that this can provide a lot of value to industry. First, if they collaborate with universities on entrepreneurship, they might not get their immediate problem solved, but they get access to one of the prime talent pools there are.
We also get lots of positive feedback on collaborations with early ideas, innovative ideas, start-ups, etc. Then, I see a lot of motivation for people in large companies for mentoring young people. They want to give back to society, and particularly to the next generation.
And then, obviously, you know, some companies take the risk and even become early customers. We have seen examples where that fostered an enormous amount of innovation. There is a lot that industry has to offer: They have experience, they have excellent infrastructure that sometimes we can use, like their 3D printing facilities, and so on. But, at the same time, I think industry also get a lot out of this.
The key is to motivate industry for entrepreneurship and not just for research collaboration.
Is there a certain aspect of what TUM Venture Labs does that you think sets it apart and garners the success and innovation that you have?
We were a bit lucky in that we already had an outstanding university. The Technical University of Munich is a top ranked university in the EU, and we already had a very strong entrepreneurship centre, so we could build on that.
What we managed to do is, not only to provide domain specific support, which I think helps a lot, but also create this kind of cross-domain collaboration. Our industry partners become partners for the entire lab with its 11 fields. Let’s say, for example, someone in the lab does additive manufacturing in aerospace. So, the partner might be interested in food printing, which is additive manufacturing, but they can also explore other fields in our lab like the AI methods in food, or what does aerospace contribute to food and agriculture.
This integrated innovation network is something that our partners value extremely and it obviously helps the entrepreneurs. I think that’s where the innovation happens”.
Interested in more insights like this?
You can learn more about the characteristics and skills researchers need to be able to successfully create impact from their work in our podcast episode Research Valorisation | Skills for valorisation and commercialisation, or you can watch our video on three simple actions to help academics in the valorisation process.
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