International start-ups and studying at THWS
The International Office and the EntrepreneurSHIP project visit the German school in Seville. A glance into our travel journal.
EntrepreneurSHIP works – this is the message we keep sending from our start-up support and awareness project at the THWS to students and into the regional start-up ecosystem. For the past two years, we have been very active in teaching, we have been organising events with regional partners and have been accompanying teams individually on their way into independent working. If this strategy can be fruitful on an international level? This is the question we ask ourselves when Juan Pablo Juárez Castro of the International Office comes to visit us with the following idea, which sounds very exceptional to us: If we felt like visiting the German school Albrecht Dürer in Seville, having conversations with pupils, showing them paths to start their own businesses while studying and offering our own workshop? Yes, we did!
Although we were organising the big “Start-Up! Competition” in Lohr/Main at the same time, we had to take this chance: For THWS, internationalisation has become an important subject in recent years. And we - the EntrepreneurSHIP team - is always welcoming international start-up founders we can support through our work. So Juan Pablo and I take our flight to Seville, and I look forward to two days of sensitisation and qualification. This time, in a totally different environment than what I am used to.
An innovation convention for pupils
But first, a few details need to be clarified - I have no idea what to expect in Seville. Juan Pablo tells me that the German school in Seville organises this important convention for innovation and entrepreneurship for the third time already: Pupils from all over Spain meet to present their start-up ideas. A jury of politicians and business persons from the Andalusia region, as well as academic partners (such as THWS) then decides upon the most innovative and promising approaches to do business. The convention is accompanied by workshops and seminars, helping pupils to further improve their ideas and to develop career perspectives. My workshop has the title “From the idea to a concept: Founding a business at a University of Applied Sciences“. I would like to conduct a business game with the pupils and formulate fictitious start-up ideas together with them. But things turn out differently - more about that later.
Back to travel mode
But first things first: After two years of staying at home for public health, I do no longer take travelling for granted. Although I travelled a lot for business and private reasons before the pandemic, the still very high incidence rates imply some challenges: From long drives and flights wearing a medical face mask to specific and constantly-changing entry and exit conditions, a lot has to be considered. I am glad to have Juan Pablo on my side, who helps me with great professionalism in the organisation of our journey. Despite that, not everything goes as planned, at least during the outbound trip: First, the Munich city train notifies us about a technical defect, then we have to get on another plane because the de-icing system on ours does not work properly. It almost seems like we have to remember turning on our “travel mode”. When I finally arrive at my guest house in Seville, I find that checking in via phone simply does not work without knowing Spanish well. Somehow it works anyway - and so, the arrival day ends with me eating tapas at a nice bar, close to the famous Seville Cathedral.
Projects for sustainability
It finally starts on a Thursday: Juan Pablo and me are visiting the German school, take part in the representative introductory event and inform ourselves about the pupils’ projects. There are ideas for lighting systems working with bacteria, an app to simplify the selection of a degree programme, and a sustainability package to improve the quality of sea water. I am impressed by the innovative spirit and the diverse projects, but also by the readiness to help and the mutual respect between the pupils in Spain. It becomes clear that the concept of sustainability plays a central role in many of the presented start-up ideas. “It’s not always easy to combine technology-based projects with a social mission”, one of my Spanish colleagues tells me over lunch. Thus, it is even more important to understand economy and social co-existence not as natural enemies, but to let them merge with each other.
Studying at THWS
This is also the topic of my workshop the next day: The creative drive is an essential quality future business-founders should have; it significantly contributes to improve the current situation through innovative projects. But what makes pupils think of entrepreneurship as a perspective for the future? “The free time management”, they say, “being your own boss”, and “the opportunity to express oneself creatively”. It soon becomes clear: The Spanish pupils’ way to think is not significantly different to the way our business founders in the EntrepreneurSHIP project think. Several course participants tell me of their great interest in natural sciences and technology-based research. For many, the choice of where to study will be a topic soon. Spontaneously, I decide to slightly adjust the concept of my workshop: Instead of using Friday noon to discuss another business model, I rather talk about the opportunities THWS offers to support innovative start-up projects during studies and introduce the pupils to a few examples of technology-based companies founded in our environment. Then, I talk about our course offerings and networking formats, from individual consulting, and funding applications, and that the International Office is happy to help students find their way to THWS. However, it does not surprise me that other factors also play a role when selecting a place to study: For example if you can go rowing near THWS locations, one pupil asks me. Yes, you can! Würzburg-Schweinfurt scores again!
See you again!
On Friday afternoon, our hosts in Seville are content and happy after the event, and express their interest in co-operating in the future. Juan Pablo and I promise to stay in contact with the school. For us, the visit to Sevilla was worthwhile in many aspects: Not only could we get to know an exciting institution of the German-Spanish educational exchange, we could also converse with future students, contribute to internationalisation, and raise awareness for the start-up culture in Lower Franconia. With this good feeling in our hearts, we begin our journey homewards – and we are already looking forward to see each other again.
By Felix Liedel
Female Entrepreneurship on TV Mainfranken
Sandra Hechelmann of TV Mainfranken visits our EntrepreneurSHIP pavilion and interviews our founders Lisa Wolf and Eileen Rößler about Female Entrepreneurship.
Lisa Wolf speaks about her start-up idea to offer 3D printing and scanning services. The 23-year-old studies Business and Engineering at THWS and wants to revolutionise additive manufacturing in the field of metal printing with her own business. Then, Eileen Rößner talks about her business ideas. She, also 23, is a student of International Management and has already created a business plan for her product. It is an everyday gadget with which she wants to improve everyone's breakfast.
See the full video on the TV Mainfranken websites!
Remindfully - Mindful Work
Remindfully - We believe in the power of good feelings.
The team of Remindfully offers you the path to return to a more mindful way of living, continuously and in small steps – or to learn it, conveniently and based on their app. The team is convinced that humaneness, originality, and connection can move our world a great step forward. To be more precise: Not forwards, but backwards. Back to community. Back to empathy. Back to thankfulness. Back to joy, honesty, and good feelings. Remindfully has the mission to make this path accessible again.
Succession is female
simply human - Lili Schleebach and Benedikt Korkmaz
With “einfach mensch”/“simply human”, the two THWS graduates create a platform which creates unbiased awareness and as such provides people with the tools to extend their own perspectives and also to present them. “einfach mensch” is concerned with topics important within our society.
Scholarship-holders of the WeSort.AI project improve the sorting of waste
Managing and recycling waste even better: This project is implemented by the “WeSort.AI” start-up by scholarship holders Martin Körner, Nathanael Laier, Johannes Laier, Christian Schärf, Simon Diener, Philipp Väth, and Tobias Scheuer.
For this purpose they have access to the rooms of the Maintal Opportunity Centre in Schweinfurt, which are also used by the University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (THWS). Together with Prof. Dr. Andreas Schiffler, Jan Hofmann of the EntrepreneurSHIP project welcomed the start-up “WeSort.AI” to the opportunity centre. The team develops AI systems for the analysis of waste, to sort materials more cleanly and cheaply and to optimise the resource cycle. The start-up project receives funding by the Bavarian FLÜGGE programme.
Optical sensor arrays and a machine learning algorithm
According to Martin Krömer, for moving a substantial step into a sustainable future, the team is developing an AI-based machine for analysing and sorting waste: It sorts waste more cleanly, significantly cheaper, and in granular classes. Optical sensors on top of the conveyor belts works as an analysis module using AI, and recognise pieces of waste, e. g. with the attributes: PET, bottle, transparent, 60 g, Coca Cola. Then, the scholarship-holder continues, "in a separation chamber equipped with air pressure nozzles, a machine learning algorithm controls the nozzles to blow off the piece of waste into the correct material channel. The control cameras in the material channels send a feedback signal to optimise the self-learning algorithm, communicating if the piece of waste was sorted into the correct channel.
In the rooms of the EntrepreneurSHIP project and with the support of Professor Schiffler from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the future company can test its prototypes and give free rein to its ideas in an environment that stimulates innovation. Among other devices, the Additive Manufacturing Lab provides a 3D printer for metal for this purpose.
An app for better accessibility: THWS students develop a “HandicApp”
Expressing needs without speaking, playing games, without using the hands, and selecting video clips without moving a finger: An app developed by an ambitious team of founders at THWS is supposed to make all this possible. The target group: People with disabilities “HandicApp” is the name of the project that aims to facilitate the communication for people with physical limitations. An innovative idea that is greatly appreciated: Recently, Janik Ehrhardt and Tobias Moritz were awarded with the “Exist” founder’s scholarship.
From a final thesis to a “business case”
The HandicApp idea originated from the bachelor thesis in Business Information Systems by Tobias Moritz at the Chair for Socioinformatics held by Prof. Dr. Nicholas Müller: In his thesis, he investigated the extent to which it is possible to make a medium react to the body movements of the users. Together with Janik Ehrhardt, a graduate in business administration and business mathematics, various use-cases were identified, ranging from e-learning environments to autonomous driving. However, the barrier-free navigation app for physically-disabled users was identified as the ideal use-case. Successful participation in competitions followed - for example, winning the Würzburg Accelerator Track: Pitch Battle. Especially the award as most innovative social idea in Germany received at the Red Bull Basement Challenge in November 2020 pointed the team towards a new direction: “Then I realised that HandicApp is more than just a “nice little social idea”, but that there is serious, economic potential behind it”, Janik Ehrhardt remembers.
More than just an app for navigation
HandicApp can already be used in the care sector: The app recognises head movements of users like nodding, turning, and tilting and translates them into commands. “This enables the expression of feelings how they are common in a care environment. Over the app, patients can indicate feelings like hunger, pain, or personal well-being”, Janik Erhardt explains. But the founders want to go further: For a later version of the app, connections to other smart phone apps like YouTube or Facetime are planned, so users can control them via HandicApp. “This enables individual selections and decisions, independent from care professionals”, Janik Ehrhardt emphasises. Especially in the entertainment field, HandicApp will develop its full potential: It is planned to directly integrate stand-alone mini games in future updates.
Found a start-up with the EXIST grant
Now, the EXIST grant shall help Janik Ehrhardt and Tobias Moritz to move their project into the next phase. “EXIST” is a funding programme by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) for future start-ups in their pre-founding phase. Ca. 200 founding teams receive it each year: For one year, HandicApp receives funding in the form of scholarships for the two founders and monetary contributions for equipment and coachings. Through the scholarship, the team of two founders is enabled to further develop the app and to transfer the project into the founding phase. The team gains additional support through Prof. Dr. Nicholas Müller who is their mentor and a network of consultants from the communication, business-founding, and special pedagogy sectors.
They have already worked on a business plan that is now to be refined and worked out in detail: The business model aims to combine B2B and B2C target groups: On one hand, the app is targeted towards care institutions, on the other hand, HandicApp shall also be available to download in the Google app store.
Both founders emphasise that further support is more than welcome. Students of computer science, visual design, e-commerce and marketing shall gain the opportunity to work on HandicApp in the context of projects and final theses, and to add to a socially-relevant topic in an application-oriented, self-responsible way through the skills they have acquired during their studies.
A service specialist on your smartphone: THWS students develop an AR-based guidance system
Please visit the website to read the whole text.