Dr. Lars Witteck: Central Hessen – the research and knowledge region where ideas become reality

What makes Central Hessen so special? With its five counties (Gießen, Lahn-Dill, Limburg-Weilburg, Mar­­burg-Biedenkopf and Vogels­berg), Central Hessen may be the smallest administrative district in Hessen in terms of surface area and pop­­ulation, but it is also the administrative district with the second-high­­est concentration of students in Ger­many. Of its university towns, Central Hes­­sen leads by a nose, with Gießen having the highest concentration of stu­­dents of all Ger­­man university towns (44 per cent).
The heavy student influence in Central Hessen (28 per cent) is also apparent when compared with the administrative districts within the entire state as the percentage of students is considerably high­­er than its percentage of the population as a whole at 17 per cent. Evidence that these large numbers also represent high quality can be seen in official recognition in the form of the German government’s Excel­lence Ini­ti­a­tive. The Justus Lie­big Univer­sity is home to two of the six ex­­cel­­lent re­­search fo­­cal points in Hessen in the form of the Car­­dio-Pulmonary Sys­tem excellence clus­­ter and the In­­ter­­national Graduate Cen­­tre for the Study of Cul­ture. The Cen­­tral Hessen research ­re­­gion is also fur­­ther reinforced by the LOEWE Centre for Hyper-Pro­life­­rative Illnesses of the Lungs and Air Passages.

Central Hessen’s R&D potential is ap­­par­­ent at Phi­­lipps Uni­ver­­si­­ty of Mar­­burg, for ex­­ample, which boasts eleven Leib­­­niz Prize winners and operates one of Europe’s three BSL-4 high-security laboratories for virological research.
Our three Central Hessian tertiary educational institutions – Philipps Univer­sity of Marburg, Jus­­tus Liebig Universi­ty of Gießen and the Gießen-Friedberg Institute of Technology – enjoy an ex­­cel­­lent reputation. All three institutions have a tradition of innovation and a company start-up spirit. Innovative products have been made in Central Hessen for over 150 years such as the well-known sera against diphtheria and tetanus or the famous Leica camera. Na­­mes of well-known scientists such as Behring, Lie­big or Röntgen are inseparably linked with Central Hessen. The fact that innovation and tradition are not mutually exclusive can be seen in the well-known companies in the region such as Buderus, the Schunk Group, Leica Ca­­mera AG, Leica Micro­systems GmbH, the Friedhelm Loh Group, CSL Behring and Novartis Behring. Edu­­cation and research thus form a ba­­sis for the region’s commercial success.

Institutions like TransMIT Ge­­sell­­schaft für Technologietransfer mbH, the Timm Competence Network and the Central Hessen En­­tre­­preneurship Cluster (ECM) support the links between the local econ­­omy and local tertiary educational in­­sti­tutions and ensure that scientific re­­search re­­sults are converted into commer­cially applicable know-how. For example, Trans­­MIT GmbH alone has opened over 100 centres in recent years, paving the way for many start-ups towards a successful business. In cases such as these, Trans­MIT GmbH regards itself as a cen­­tral interface be­­tween tertiary education and business. Businessmen looking for an innovative solution to their problems or scientists wanting to market ideas or form a com­­pany are at the right ad­­dress at Trans­MIT GmbH. The recently-formed Central Hessian Entrepreneurship Clus­ter also pursues a similar approach. Its ob­­jective is to reinforce and systemat­i­cal­ly initiate company start-ups from Cen­­tral Hessen’s institutes of tertiary education and to stimulate entrepre­neur­­­ial spirit in the students. Timm, by con­­trast, offers an ideal platform for cooper­­ative programmes and knowledge trans­­fer es­­pecially for the medical sector in Cen­­tral Hessen. The objective is to sim­­plify innovative processes and convert the results of research into marketable ap­­plications quickly.

An excellent example of how knowledge acquired here benefits local companies is the “StudiumPlus” course at the Gie­ßen-Friedberg Institute of Technology. “Stu­di­um­Plus” is a dual course in which the students enrol at the Institute and simultaneously have a job contract with a local company.

Efforts are also made through the tar­get­­­­ed formation of clusters to gain advantages of size and group and to combine strengths. For example, companies in Central Hessen active in drive, measur­ing and control technology, optics and photonics each have a broad network of manufacturers, which makes the re­­gion a real focal point of competence in one of the business fields of concentrat­ed innovation. The optics cluster in the Gießen area and the Lahn-Dill county is thus one of the top ten in the optics sector.

In order for ideas to actually be implemented in the market, the conditions must also be right. Precisely this is the case in Central Hessen. Its central po­­sition in Germany connects the region very well with all major urban centres in Europe and international markets. The investor-friendly climate here with short administrative processes and compar­­a­­tively low location costs makes Central Hessen particularly attractive for start-ups and investors. In this context the Re­­gio­­nalmanagement-Verein Mitte­Hes­sen e.V. functions as a cohesive combination of business, science and govern­ment, which supports competent companies at their formation stage.

Approval processes which are as short as possible are also an important location factor offered by the Central Hes­sian region.
The Gießen administrative district has there­­fore set itself the objective of finalizing approval processes flexibly and in considerably less time than usual. For ex­­ample, in 2007 a manufacturing company could obtain approval after only an average of 2.27 months, which enabled it to react quickly to the demands of the market. As an additional service, the adminis­­trative district of­­fers comprehensive consulting services, starting with questions on forming com­­panies through the search for approval options for certain projects to possible EU sub­­sidies. Innovation-friendly policies and flexible public authorities round off the region’s general concept.

Overall, it can be said that academics, scientists, stu­den­ts, businessmen and investors are in the right place here in Central Hessen.


1The author was born in 1974. After gain­­ing a law degree, he worked in various positions as a research assistant and law trainee. He then worked as a judge from 2006 to 2008. From 2008 to 2009, he managed a young peoples’ detention centre. Since 2009 he has been Chairman of the Gießen Region.