Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Glück: Starting a business – Excellent infrastructure for new ideas

Initially funded by the Bavarian High-Tech Offensive and the EU, the Western Bavarian Technology Center TCW was founded in Nördlingen in 2002. It is a next-generation start-up centre, with en­­trepreneurial ambitions and significant unique features, which clearly goes be­­yond the standard operations of a typical start-up centre. An excellent infrastructure for new ideas was created, mainly in cooperation with the Augsburg Uni­versity of Applied Sciences. The Uni­­ver­sity-affiliated TCW institute, situated in the rural surroundings of the Techno­logiepark Westbayern technology park, enjoys an outstanding market reputation. This is due to excellent results and the professional quality of its transfer services as well as the remarkable flexibility of the innovation and start-up centre. It has become a sought-after project part­­ner throughout southern Germany and has been particularly successful in raising third-party funds.

Technology and start-up centres (TGZs) are considered to be an essential in­­stru­­ment for promoting economic and tech­­nological development. In the diffi­cult phases before, during and after the for­­mation, they constitute local networks of firms that provide the best possible conditions for supporting the establish­ment or development of the resident enterprises during the limited period of time they stay at the centre. All in all, those centres act as incubators and ca­­­­t­­alysts for young enterprises and help them to develop into competitive and robust entities that are able to survive in the market in the long term. Espe­cial­ly in rural areas, far from the densely populated urban centres and tertiary education facilities, the TGZs are crucial for promoting regional de­­velopment.
The town of Nördlingen, situated on the western edge of the Munich Metropol­i­tan Region MMR in the Danube-Ries county, is such a rural area. There are four central tasks which the TCW has to address on its challenging path:

(1) Promoting innovative company formations in a start-up centre
(2) Developing its own profile as a tech­­nology centre for process, automation and manufacturing engineering and build­­ing networks with Bavarian univer­­sities
(3) Engaging in engineering services and dealing with future-oriented pro­jects in the field of application-related re­­search and development in cooperation with re­­gional companies, as well as
(4) Playing an active part in the promotion of the regional economy and technology
The TCW, which is jointly op­­erated by the Danube-Ries county and the town of Nördlingen, addresses each of these four tasks with strong in­­volve­ment and entrepreneurial spirit. In doing so, we focus on five priorities: networking with well-established companies, for­­ma­­­tion and relocation of businesses, co­­opera­tion with universities (of applied sciences) and R&D institutions, extensive marketing activities to promote the re­­gion, and vocational qualification through high-quality courses and educational of­­­­fers. Each business area is developed in accordance with an annually revised strategy. A performance evaluation is also in place. As a start-up centre, we provide affordable space to rent for prospective business founders and technology-oriented partner firms.

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More than 1,800 square metres are wait­­ing to be put to use. The smallest units comprise 26 square metres, they are suitable for manufacturing purposes and can be combined as required. Space that grows with the businesses. The en­­tre­­pre­­neurs rent and pay only the amount and type of space they need. In addition, the start-ups benefit from a wide range of business advice and qual­­i­fication op­­por­­tunities, from a large va­­riety of services, such as copying facilities, location and equipment management, and from meeting and conference rooms and the whole infrastructure necessary for creating a professional impression.
Short distances and direct access to TCW staff as point of call in case of prob­lems help to deal with everyday challeng­­es en passant.

TCW tenants have access to the internet and to internal networks, central telephone exchange, state-of-the-art IT sys­­­tems as well as a vast range of one-stop services.

Firms benefit from targeted marketing activities and the high profile of the cen­­tre, which facilitate their market en­­try. Dedicated support and absolute pro­­tec­­tion of confidence are a matter of course. In addition, our services and ad­­vice are also available to prospective entrepreneurs from the region who are not based on our premises and are not planning to locate to the Western Ba­­varian Tech­­nology Center.

The TCW has already provided strong re­­gional stimuli: 26 start-up projects were realized at the Center directly, and an additional 53 external entrepreneurial projects from various sectors were ac­­companied with advice.

Since 2004, Northern Swabia has ceased to be at the bottom of the league in terms of business start-ups. The TCW’s activi­ties, especially in the field of start-up promo­tion, have had an impact on the whole region: Nearly 70 new jobs were created at the TCW. Relocations and suc­­cessful efforts to keep major com­­pa­­nies in the region also generated or saved about 150 jobs. Ap­­proxi­­mately 70 patent and trade mark ap­­plications – attesting to our in­­novative power – have been filed in con­­nection with the TWC over the past six years. The TCW engineering team contributed ideas or advice to eight pat­­ent applications.

The competitiveness of young and new­­ly founded firms depends to a significant degree on their capacity to use fu­­ture-oriented technologies for de­­veloping in­­novative products in a very short period of time. The TCW has put much effort in building a far-reaching compe­tence net­­work of more than 90 partners. Much attention is given to strengthening the links with companies, banks, ad­­ministra­­­tive, education­al and R&D in­­stitutions as well as im­­portant political decision mak­­ers and multipliers (parti­cularly chambers, eco­­­­nomic development organizations, le­­gal, tax and business consultants, uni­­­versi­­ties, business net­­works or as­­so­­ciations).


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Northern Swabia is lacking tertiary edu­­cation and R&D facilities, which sometimes had negative effects on start-up activities. This was recognized early on and compensated for by the TCW’s pro­­active action, for example by creating opportunities to attend lectures and co­­operate with the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences and the Fritz-Hopf technical college in Nör­­dlin­­gen. Degree theses and internships were also occasionally arranged in cooperation with universities of applied scien­­c­­es in Nu­­remberg, Aalen and Re­­gens­­burg.

The expansion of the TCW into an efficient engineering institute, affiliated to the Augsburg University of Applied Sci­­en­c­­es, was consistently pursued. The cur­­rent activities of the Western Ba­­varian Technology Center go beyond merely op­­erating an incubator in that it follows a targeted industrial and pro­­ject cooper­a­tion strategy.
This approach includes the development of tailor-made solutions to support re­­gional medium-sized firms in clearly de­­termined areas of demand – particularly in the application fields of mechatronics, automation and process metrology, sensor technology, condition monitoring, ro­­botics and industrial im­­age processing.
A cornerstone for the establishment of a university initiative was laid by ten lo­­cal companies which jointly set up a foun­­dation initiative that aimed to prepare the formation of a satellite institute of the Augsburg University of Ap­­plied Sci­ences in Northern Swabia.
The attempt was successful: In 2009, the TCW was awarded the status of an af­­filiated institute by the president of the Augsburg University of Applied Sci­­­­en­­ces, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Hans-Eberhard Schurk.
The TCW is attached to the University with re­­gard to teaching, research and ac­­a­­dem­­ic work. It is home to a professorial chair and represents the North Swabian branch of the Augsburg Uni­versity of Applied Sciences, where stu­­dents can spend part of their studies.

Funds provided by the Swabian govern­ment, the Free State of Bavaria and the EU allowed the TCW institute to invest another substantial amount of money in extending its scope of involvement. This important anti-cyclical investment in people, education and a region, in difficult times, came at the right time. The money was spent on cutting-edge sensor and laser technology, a laboratory for industrial image processing, two lecture halls for optional and specialist lectures, and, apart from all these high-tech devices, on two lecture halls and another twelve laboratory work places for students who are involved in pro­­jects of the TCW or Augsburg University of Ap­­plied Sciences during lab courses and final papers.
Another novelty was inaugurated. A mod­­ern “Robotics Demo & Research Center” was established at the TCW institute, which can be used by students of the Augsburg University of Applied Scienc­es and the Fritz-Hopf technical college and by partners from industry to conduct training, tests, research and development work related to robotics, gripping technology and manufacturing automation. It applies the latest engineering ad­­vances in education and technology transfer and is funded by KUKA Roboter GmbH, Messrs Schunk – a manufacturer of grip­­ping devices (Lauffen/Neckar), the sen­­sor manufacturer Micro-Epsilon (Orten­burg) and the North Rhine-Westphalian founder company HARTING (Es­­pel­­kamp).

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The TCW cooperates with chambers (ICC, chamber of trades). It is involved in the Bavarian “Mechatronics & Au­­to­­ma­­tion” (Augsburg) and “Sensor Tech­­no­­l­­ogy” (Re­­gensburg) innovation clusters and main­­tains contact with the Carbon Compos­ite e.V. network. Its membership in the Augsburg-based university transfer net­­work TEA forges particularly strong links with the market in Northern Swabia. As an organization of the Danube-Ries county, the TCW also takes an active part in MMR activities.

So far, this model of business and tech­­nology promotion has proved to be par­­ticularly useful. The Western Ba­­varian Technology Center has been showcased on several occasions as an exemplary model project at national level and has won numerous awards. The award of the “Bavarian Quality Award 2006” to the city of Nördlingen and the Western Ba­­varian Technology Center on 7 March 2006 con­­stitutes a milestone in the history of the Center.

 

IMG_4512_Roboterlabor_GlueckThe author studied electrical engineering at the University of Ulm. He has been the managing director of the Western Bavarian Technology Center since 2002 and a member of the mechanical engineering faculty at the Augsburg Uni­ver­­sity of Applied Sciences since 2008. In addition, he coordinates the activities of the regional cluster of the Technol­o­giepark Westbayern – Process Auto­ma­­tion Cluster.