“The Potsdam Science Park is all set for growth” – Jana Dotzek in conversation

Potsdam Science Park is one of the fastest-growing places for business in the state of Brandenburg. Its allure continues to strengthen as a startup and relocation destination. A dedicated Transfer & Founders Team is there to put people in touch with experts, and hosts a range of knowledge-sharing and workshop events. Team member Jana Dotzek talks to us about how their events like Rooftop Pitch Potsdam and the PSP Conference ensure that great ideas from scientists make it to the market.

Hi Jana. If I’m a startup founder and I’m looking at the Potsdam area, there are a few interesting options for startups available. What does your team at the Location Management offer people in particular?

Our services for founders are geared towards people working in the Potsdam Science Park who are looking at starting their own business. Now if you’re at the University of Potsdam, studying or employed, you’re definitely aware of Potsdam Transfer so you can just talk to their Startup Service, whereas people working at research institutes probably don’t know about these possibilities. That’s where the transfer team of the Location Management (Standortmanagement Golm GmbH) come in, with our large network of partners. For example we can link you up with Potsdam Transfer or WFBB (Economic Development Agency Brandenburg). You can come to us and sign up for a free advice session, workshops of the Startup Academy, or one of our events like the PSP Conference 2022. We have a second pillar too: what we call “transfer”. This is when companies come to us looking for partners and cooperations with science or find particular know-how.

Why do you think it’s so important to have a custom service for the Potsdam Science Park?

Well, one of the focus branches in the Potsdam Science Park is life sciences. We’ve got people manufacturing antibodies, or developing potential cancer cell diagnostics, and so on. In these kinds of areas it’s generally a lot more complex to launch a startup than in other fields. Of course it’s also about our desire to see people found companies in Potsdam, keep them here and flourish. Launching a startup is far from a straightforward process – you’ve often got people who have highly specialized knowledge but don’t know much about growing a business, which is a completely different challenge. Many people are well-informed, while others just have a rough idea and want to know what the next steps to take are. Whichever it is, we will be able to connect them with the right expert contacts.

Do you have any particularly memorable startups or founders to tell us about from your own experience?

As someone who did her own PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, which is why I am always excited by startups in this particular field of plant research and biotechnology. But I also enjoy the sheer breadth of topics people are working on in Potsdam, like stress detection for farm animals. One of the more memorable people I’ve met has been Dr-Ing. Natalia Realpe Carrillo from HEDERA Sustainable Solutions whom I first met at a Future2Go event. Her story is inspirational; she left her native Colombia for Germany because she knew you can study microfinance here. Microfinance is a real passion for her; she wants to popularize it in poorer countries to help people build better lives. She’s extremely motivated; despite having three children in her early startup days, she’s kept her eye on the ball and made a name for herself in the sector.

Besides working with founders, you also do a lot in terms of “transfer” networking. For example, your regular Future2Go and Science2Go events. How do those fit in to the picture?

Science2Go is a very simple concept. There is a huge variety of people in the Potsdam Science Park and they’re working at a broad spectrum of labs or research institutes. What tends to happen is that they don’t have the time or chances to get a feel for other fields. What Science2Go does once a month is bridge that gap. Scientists do presentations of what they’re working on, and people mingle. We did these as physical events pre-pandemic, then we switched to an online format, and now they’re back as physical meetups. With Future2Go, meanwhile, you have Potsdam Science Park graduates sharing what their working lives are now like. They show people what careers are possible beyond the ivory tower. We feature not just graduates who are now working in industry or government ministries, but also those who’ve founded startups. Both these events are very popular.

What does the PSP Conference format aim to do?

That’s something that already been going for 12 years, the original name was “Hightech Transfer Day”. The PSP Conference is now the biggest innovators’ forum in the area. It showcases the kind of new scientific ideas, research innovations, innovative products and processes that are coming out of the Potsdam Science Park. It’s also about partnerships. We want to bring industry and researchers round the same table. Researchers can present their latest ideas and development work and rub shoulders with businesspeople. We had 193 attendees in 2021. The next round of the PSP Conference is going to be in the Fraunhofer Conference Center (in the Potsdam Science Park) on 20 October 2022.

How did you end up creating your own startup pitch vehicle with Rooftop Pitch Potsdam?

It started back in 2020 just as an idea we wanted to road-test. Would it work well, would founders from the Potsdam Sciece Park network be interested, what would they think of the format? We’re now in year 3 and feedback has been great. This kind of pitch is exactly what a lot of founders have been looking for: practice at presenting their ideas, networking, and potentially even meeting investors. We offer all that in a small setting. Sure, we’re smaller than other events, but that can also make for less pressure and an easier atmosphere to practice in. You have to win investors over in four minutes. It’s a tough challenge, but that makes it enjoyable too. And you’re also on a roof terrace where you can relax, mingle and gain experience.

What do you think the benefits are of being in Potsdam? What does it have that other places don’t?

Potsdam Science Park has a big critical mass of knowhow on site, especially in life sciences, biotechnology and new materials. Added to that you’ve got the growth opportunities the Park offers. You have numerous new businesses using the space that the Potsdam Science Park offers – yes, it still has space for new buildings with laboratories and offices, unlike lots of other places in Greater Berlin. With the involvement of stakeholders, the city of Potsdam has laid down development plans for the next 20 years. So we are all set for growth. One more thing: we have the Park’s management office at hand. For me that’s a plus: we’re constantly working together on improving the business environment, for example fine-tuning the rail connections or improving the networking possibilities. Meanwhile when a firm is looking to hire, we can help out – plus you have the University on your doorstep with very well-qualified graduates coming out of Potsdam-Golm. One more advantage: our Welcome Service, which makes sure that new colleagues from abroad can get housing locally and get their kids into kindergarten. Of course it doesn’t hurt to be as physically close to Berlin as we are, either, which means yet more potential partners, as well as free time and housing options.

Is there a takeaway you’d like founders to have from this conversation?

Yes: there’s an incredible number of free services in Berlin and Brandenburg where you can find out more and do startup-related training. It’s worth taking the time to educate yourself about this, above and beyond the science you’re working on. Try out some workshops or seminars, these can give you a good sense of whether you’re cut out to be a founder. Just try it out! We offer free advice sessions, they’re open to absolutely anyone. And with the Potsdam Science Park you’ve got a fantastic network and plenty of experts at hand. You’ll get answers to all your questions – all you have to do is ask.

Thanks for talking to us, Jana.

This blog and the projects of Standortmanagement Golm GmbH in Potsdam Science Park are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the State of Brandenburg.

Image credit: Dr. Jana Dotzek, Standortmanagement Golm GmbH © Standortmanagement Golm GmbH, Martin Jehnichen