There are many hurdles on the path from abstract idea to tangible product development. Entrepreneurial workshops like those run by the DAAD and the Falling Walls Foundation can give academics the necessary tools to overcome these challenges, and to awaken their inherent entrepreneurial potential. Three participants in the ‘From PhD to Innovator’ workshop talk about their experiences. Even those not yet thinking about marketing their research can benefit from such events. In any case, this was emphasised by three participants at the workshop in March. They all currently find themselves in quite different phases of the transformation process to becoming young entrepreneurs.
A lot has become much clearer to Ariadna Petri in the past three months. ‘Monica (Vrabiuta; editor's note) and I have been thinking for a while about how we could transfer our ideas about femininity into a product’, explains the academic who is currently studying in Spain. ‘Yet we simply couldn’t mould this concept into a finished form. The workshop helped us to define an app as the starting point.’ But what exactly is this supposed to achieve? ‘Femininity is in fact a term that isn’t so easy to define, because it’s always subject to social change’, Petri admits. ‘We're explicitly not speaking here about sexual orientation, but rather emphasising that everyone has both masculine and feminine attributes. These include creativity, empathy and tenderness. We want to strengthen these aspects rather than suppress them. Our app is intended to help with this.’
The aim is that users create detailed profiles and then receive suggestions on how to strengthen their inner femininity. ‘Our psychological approach has the disadvantage that it’s difficult to explain, and isn’t as readily marketable as other products’, Petri explains. ‘Yet it’s extremely important for everyone to pay attention to and nurture their emotional well-being, and that’s exactly what we want to do. The workshop was therefore all the more valuable for us, because it forced us to become more specific. We cobbled together a kind of prototype to give us a first visualisation for the project presentation.’
The duo is currently looking for start-up accelerators and incubators, and wants to expand the team. ‘We definitely need someone to take care of the coding’, points out Monica Vrabiuta, who is to assume management of the project in a few months' time.
Fariz Kahhaleh hasn’t yet progressed as far as Ariadna Petri and Monica Vrabiuta. The research demands are too great, and extend far beyond his own doctorate. ‘My doctoral thesis deals with the issue of whether a pregnant woman’s immune system can be modified in such a way that the child is less susceptible to asthma’, explains the Syrian who is currently conducting research at the Charité in Berlin. ‘We did in fact find an antibody that showed promising results in a trial with mice. But of course we still have to verify these in a further series of tests. It’ll take years before we progress to clinical trials.’
Kahhaleh was however still able to benefit from his participation in the YES Workshop. ‘I received some incredibly positive feedback after my presentation. Everyone applauded and cheered – that was a wonderful moment for me, because it’s the first time that I’ve presented my project to researchers from different faculties. My two professors later confirmed that I’d managed to describe my undertaking in a way that was comprehensible and passionate. I believe that’s one of the most important things that we as researchers can learn from entrepreneurs. Einstein said in this regard, “If you can't explain it to a six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself.” I see this as the core of all academic life.’ It’s yet to be revealed whether Kahhaleh will try his hand at entrepreneurship after completing his doctorate. ‘In any event, I enjoyed exchanging ideas with other DAAD alumnae and alumni during the workshop. I can only recommend that everyone enjoys this experience, and at the same time learns about the tools required for entrepreneurship.’
Noor ul Ain Zahra also raves about the workshop. ‘It helps you to improve the skills required for expressing yourself and contributing in the real world’, emphasises the Pakistani who wants to create an app to manage a medication plan, including a list of possible side effects and contraindications. ‘I’ve not yet started with the project, but I’m already looking forward to assembling a suitable team. The feedback during the workshop has in any case really helped me.’ At the same time, she said, she has learned not to be afraid of failure, but to always move on and learn from mistakes. ‘This is often an aspect that’s not communicated clearly enough in the academic world.’