GUIDE: How to start a startup in Darmstadt

Why Darmstadt?

Darmstadt is a typical student city in the heart of Europe and Germany, so we wanted to find out:

Which are the places-to-go in Darmstadt for ambitious founders?

But why should you keep a close eye on Darmstadt? First of all, the city is well-known for its student culture, being home to a leading technical university. And as we all know First Momentum Ventures ❤ student entrepreneurs. Besides that we have an insider on our team, that knows the entrepreneurial landscape quite well, so it seemed like a obvious choice, right?

However, Darmstadt is not broadly known for its entrepreneurial culture, we see a huge potential, especially in business-to-business, for three reasons:

  • With thousands of students of STEM subjects, you find a lot of talent in one place
  • There is a lot of know-how produced and shared in Darmstadt, not only in the field of cybersecurity.
  • Because of its outstanding geographical location, you will also be close to many potential B2B customers (see this post from my colleague Andreas).

PART 1: Finding your path on-campus — academic chairs, programs, and student initiatives

You are a student and want to explore the startup scene around campus? Well, than these are your potential places-to-be:

  • HIGHEST is the startup center of the TU Darmstadt with a broad spectrum of support for student-run startups: it offers an initial mentoring program: the seTUp program helps you on improving your ventures’ problem-solution fit. It offers you workshops about elevator pitches, value proposition, financing, agile project management and connects you with HIGHEST mentors and the region’s entrepreneurs. A special focus lies of evaluation of market potential and realization of your technology-based venture. The goal is to validate your hypothesis and prepare you for the efficient execution and scalability of your project. The next programs will start at the beginning of July 2019 (phase two) and March 2020.
  • “Ringvorlesung”: There is a special lecture “Digital Business and Startups” organized by HIGHEST. They usually invite entrepreneurial alumni of TU Darmstadt and Business leaders of the metropolitan area which hold lectures on broad perspectives on entrepreneurship.
  • On campus, you also find the Entrepreneursclub Darmstadt e.V. — a student-run platform for exchange on entrepreneurial and tech topics. They organize excursions to startups nearby and in other tech-cities as well as hackathons.
  • There are also several chairs at TU Darmstadt that dedicate their work to entrepreneurial topics. Some exciting lectures that the uni offers: IT Business Models and Valuation (Prof. Bock/ Benlian); Creating a Web Startup (Prof. Buxmann); Performance und Scalability in E-Commerce-Systems (Prof. Mezini).

Part 2: Further initiatives for students, graduates and young founders

You believe you already wasted enough time on campus and you are willing to explore the city? Luckily, there are further great touchpoints to meet entrepreneurial, like-minded peers.

  • HIPA — The Hessian Israeli Partnership Accelerator is a great opportunity for students to tackle challenges in the field of security and takes place in Darmstadt and Tel Aviv. You will solve challenges in Internet & Cloud security, IoT, Protection against Advanced Persistent Threats and others. The challenge will be solved during 3 months — starting with a week in Tel Aviv and ending in Darmstadt. Application deadline is usually in December.
  • Digitalhub Cybersecurity Darmstadt (Fraunhofer SIT) — The Fraunhofer SIT in Darmstadt is one of leading hubs for applied security research in Europe. At their regular “Hub nights” latest insights of various topics (especially cybersecurity, but not only) are shared with the interested public. It is also an opportunity for you to find anchor-customers, mentors as well as investors within the region. Their annual competition up19 curates the most promising cybersecurity startups and the jury consists of well-known industry experts.
  • The Merck Accelerator Merck offers great resources for startups in Healthcare, Biotech or Life-sciences. The DAX-company just recently opened a new innovation center with huge laboratories (including 3D printing and laser-cutting) and provide you with all resources young teams might need. They also organize learning expeditions to China, including Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. If connecting the biological and digital world and data analytics is a passion of yours, find team members and do not miss the next application deadline (August 25th).
  • ESA Business Incubation Centre — Did you dedicate your business to rocket science? Darmstadt is home to ESOC, ESA´s mission operation center. While they control spaceships day-by-day they might also be a reliable partner for your venture — space-related or non-space. People at ESA are enthusiastic about all sorts of ambitious ventures and will provide you with great insights.

Part 3: Space and Events

You want to work side by side with the best? You do not wish to found your next startup from your parents garage? Then co-working spaces might be the way to go!

  • Hub 31 — offers a wide variety of options from shared desks (~ 200€) to private offices.
  • Lab 3 is a laboratory and makerspace, dedicated to enable ventures in biology, chemistry and technologies in general. In their public calendar you´ll find opportunities to participate and create for good.
  • Cowo21 — on 250m² you will find 20 desks in 4 offices.
  • Cool Working — A loft-style co-working space close to Darmstadt central station.

Of course, there are also a lot of EVENTS:

Part 4: Financing and scholarships

Once you’ve put together a great team, established initial customer contact and connected well in Darmstadt you are ready to take off — some financing opportunities that might push you further:

  • First Momentum Ventures — That’s us! While reading this article you already stumbled upon us. We are a young innovative fund, with a special passion for young startups. Our main goal is to provide young inspiring startups with a first pre-seed investment. Our five founders (Andreas Fischer, Alexander Kaiser, Sebastian Böhmer, Karl Lorey and Benedikt Stolz) are always happy to get to know you and your ideas, but you can also contact our Darmstadt ambassador Marlon anytime! We are really looking forward to hearing from you!
  • M-Ventures — The Venture Capital arm of Merck — considered as the oldest pharmacist in the world — invests €300M in Healthcare, Life Sciences, Performance Materials and New Businesses. While M-Ventures itself is based in Amsterdam, they invest globally, bringing early innovation to commercial success.
  • Döhler Ventures — Operated from Darmstadt, the CVC mainly invests in Nutrition, Food but also online platform models in an early phase.
  • Besides that the university cooperates with the BMBF, to provide the StartupSecure, which grants you money without equity.
  • Business Angels — Looking for an investment, you may also consider the various business angels located in Darmstadt.

To conclude, …

Darmstadt, also known as a popular swarm-town, will be your ideal place to start your venture. Backing you with more talent, inspiration and great contacts in local as well as supra-regional economy, Darmstadt is a great place that enables your team to be more ambitious and prepares for further growth. If you want to learn more about why Darmstadt is simply awesome, we also recommend you this DEV SPIEGEL article. [Not a sponsored advertisment by the city of Darmstadt, though! Just spreading the First Momentum Ventures love for innovative student cities.].


First Momentum Ventures

As a pre-seed investor, we help your startup to gain its first momentum by backing you with a first investment as well as world-class mentoring, a strong community, and the required know-how.

First Momentum Ventures

Written by

Young startups will change the world. To support them with capital and know-how at an early stage, we're building Germany's first student-run VC.

First Momentum Ventures

As a pre-seed investor, we help your startup to gain its first momentum by backing you with a first investment as well as world-class mentoring, a strong community, and the required know-how.

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