BERLIN--You cannot guarantee your start-up's success, but there is a lot you can do to boost your chances. One good way would have been to visit German Existence Founder Days 2000. More than 10,000 participants, including many young scientists, visited Germany's leading fair for start-ups and young entrepreneurs last weekend in Berlin. For some of them, the fair provided the last push they needed to make the leap into economic autonomy; for others it was a chance to learn how to carry the entrepreneurial spirit into Germany's universities.

Compared to other nationalities, Germans still hesitate to start their own enterprises. While in the United States, for example, 8.5% of all citizens have tried starting their own business, only 2.2% of the Germans did. And this is not enough. "Instead of the current 1400 new high-tech start-ups annually, we probably need about 2000 knowledge-based foundations in the future if we want to keep our position in these world markets," Guido Baranowski, chairman of the Association of German Founder Centers (ADT), tells Next Wave. Universities, in particular, are not developing their full commercial potential. While several recent surveys agree that 25% to 30% of all scientists have good chances for setting up a start-up, only 5% currently dare to take this step.

German Existence Founder Days was designed to give them courage. The 3-day-long program offered advice and suggestions for each phase of a start-up: Orientation, Planning, Founding, and Growing. More than 50 seminars made the fair an outstanding opportunity to test your ideas and business concepts, look for consultants, and establish valuable contacts. "FoundingTalks" invited newcomers to exchange ideas with established entrepreneurs. Experts from business and finance discussed Smartmoney, a financial concept that combines venture capital with advice, labs, contacts, and sometimes management. Also, the 16 winners of the national start-up competition GründerChampions 2000 where announced.

During the Berlin fair, critics also argued that German universities fail to teach entrepreneurial skills. To address this problem, about 15 leading university professors from Germany and the United Kingdom presented the "10 Berlin Propositions," a set of statements outlining a plan to foster the culture of entrepreneurship at German Universities. They also pointed out that business savvy scientists--and science literate entrepreneurs--are needed to found successful enterprises, and they demanded that "Entrepreneurship at universities should reach all faculties."

The fair seems to have been a success. "This is a really inspiring event in an exciting time for young founders," says Sven Ripsas of the Berlin-based Existence Founders Institute.

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