The Future is Female: Thuringian start-up services organize joint event for female founders

The start-up services of TU Ilmenau, Bauhaus University Weimar and Friedrich Schiller University Jena invited prospective female founders to a two-day networking and training event. The so-called Female Founders Retreat was aimed at participants of the new "EXIST-Women" funding program of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK), which aims to encourage women at universities and research institutions to become self-employed.

The participants at the opening of the Female Founders Retreat by organizer Miriam Köble (Bauhaus-Universität Weimar).

Excited murmuring pervades the large hall of the Positz manor near Oppurg in Thuringia, laughter can be heard here and there, initial acquaintances are made and commonalities identified as new women arrive in the event room. The hall is well filled when a young woman approaches the lectern at 1:30 p.m. on the dot and warmly welcomes everyone. She looks into 30 pairs of friendly and interested eyes, eager to see what awaits them in the coming days. The young woman at the lectern is Miriam Köble, start-up consultant at the neudeli start-up workshop at Bauhaus University Weimar. She came up with the idea for a weekend dedicated to female empowerment, supporting and empowering women who want to start their own business. Together with the start-up services K1 of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the Ilmkubator of the TU Ilmenau, a lot of planning, organizing and rethinking has taken place over the past weeks and months. At the end of the weekend, in two days' time, Miriam Köble and her colleagues from the Thuringian universities will be thrilled by the commitment and positive feedback from the participants, the unique exchange and the respectful cooperation.

Twenty-five participants attended the first Female Founders Retreat, which took place this weekend at the Rittergut: A three-day, intensive networking and further education programme organized exclusively for female founders from the universities of Jena, Weimar and Ilmenau. Far away from everyday life, they can concentrate fully on their start-up projects in the natural surroundings. They are accompanied by six employees from the start-up services Ilmkubator (TU Ilmenau), K1 (Friedrich Schiller University Jena) and the neudeli start-up workshop (Bauhaus University Weimar). The unique program is made possible by the "EXIST-Women" funding line of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection. "The retreat is a project close to our hearts that we've had in mind for a long time," says Miriam Köble. "It's great that it could finally be realized thanks to the EXIST funding and the commitment of my colleagues."

Networking opportunities and specialist workshops

In addition to leisure activities such as a torch-lit hike and a guided tour of the manor, the day's agenda includes networking opportunities and specialist workshops. Participants will be able to learn more about topics such as pricing, financial strategies and social innovation. But skills such as time and self-management, creativity and entrepreneurial qualities are also promoted in workshops. The focus is on the premise of taking action and applying what has been learned directly and in exchange with others.

The participants and start-up advisors also get active in daily sports activities run by prospective female founders. They are planning to become self-employed in the healthcare sector and were able to try out their concepts directly on and with potential customers.

The program is tightly timed, but there is still time for individual exchange and the odd brief consultation. University affiliations play no role on this weekend; different life plans, origins, start-up topics or educational qualifications are also irrelevant. "There are wonderful women who want to shape the world, who are non-judgemental and empowering - right in the city next door," says one participant, summarizing her experience. Another added: "A support network was immediately created through the cooperative exchange with the other women. You immediately felt at ease and were able to communicate your ideas confidently." She is now going home inspired, motivated and with lots of questions for reflection, she says.

The start-up advisors from Weimar, Jena and Ilmenau are also impressed by the cooperation between the women and are enthusiastic about the success of the Female Founders Retreat: "As start-up services in Thuringia, we are networked in the Thuringian university start-up network StarTH and work closely together. We also want to bring this cooperation closer to our female founders," says consultant Ede Möser from Jena. His colleague Franziska Dettke from Ilmenau agrees with him: "We are starting by opening up our offerings to all locations and would be happy to repeat formats such as the retreat. We are planning a reunion in the summer and perhaps we will celebrate the completion of the projects together in the fall."

About "EXIST-Women

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK) is expanding its start-up funding for female entrepreneurs and founders from the scientific community. To this end, the established EXIST funding program has been expanded to include the new "EXIST-Women" funding line.

The new program line aims to encourage women at universities and research institutions to venture into entrepreneurial independence so that more women will act as managing directors and shareholders of innovative start-ups in the future. To date, the proportion of women founding start-ups in Germany remains low at around 20 percent (Female Founders Monitor 2022), which is why a significant part of the existing start-up potential is not being exploited.

The federal government is providing a total of 6.5 million euros for the new program line in 2023, 110 universities from all over Germany will be funded in the "EXIST-Women" line.

EXIST-Women in Thuringia

Last year, the universities in Ilmenau, Jena, Weimar and Nordhausen University of Applied Sciences applied for the BMWK's "EXIST-Women" funding program. Women from the university context were then able to apply for the limited places in the program and were each selected in a jury process. They will receive funding until the end of November 2024 in the form of advice and further training opportunities as well as optional financial support. The universities design their programs independently of each other, but would like to intensify networking within the locations.

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Laura Martin

Ilmkubator | PR and Events