EXIST: supporting technology transfer by startups in Germany

The German EXIST program is designed to help get research results out of universities and into use. Although it’s targeted mostly at recent graduates who’ve just finished their Bachelor, Master, or PhD program, it can actually be used by almost anyone.

A note about language

There’s some information available in English, but the program itself (like most federally-funded R&D programs in Germany) runs in German so there is much more information available in German.

What it is

The EXIST program has two main funding routes.

  1. The EXIST Business Start-up Grant (EXIST-Gründerstipendium), which is for students, graduates, and scientists interested in founding a company
  2. The EXIST Transfer of Research (EXIST-Forschungstransfer), which is for research-based start-up projects with complex, high-risk development work.

The two programs side-by-side

EXIST Gründerstipendium EXIST forschungstransfer
n. People funded
Amount funded
Other costs funded
Other benefits
Application period
Application process
Processing time

The information above is just a summary. Please check with the current funding guidelines!

Which is easier / best / better for you?

This very much depends on your situation. If you already have a stable source of income and can wait for funding to arrive, you might consider the Technology Transfer Grant, especially as you get more funding. But, if time is of the essence, you might consider the Start-up Grant.

We asked a contact who’s worked on several applications for their perspective. They said

The start-up grant is faster. However, it is not necessarily easier, as you have to have a very convincing proposal. But, because of the lower funding amount, the hurdles regarding market size are perhaps not quite as high.

TL;DR: it’s your choice!

Getting started

EXIST grants are run through German universities with the support of a local innovation network. This means that you need to find the person at a university that you want to work with, and enlist their help. You could start by contacting a Professor or senior researcher as your mentor, and going from there.

Alternatively, most research universities in Germany will have someone who is responsible for helping people apply for an EXIST grant. If you already work at a university or are a student, you should be able to contact them through an internal innovation network, or ask someone in the faculty. However, these people may not be visible for people outside the university, in which case a good place to start is often the technology transfer office - they should know who to get you in contact with.

What’s your experience of the EXIST program?