Agnes von Matuschka has been the managing director of the Park Management (Standortmanagement Golm GmbH) in the Potsdam Science Park for three years. A conversation about big future plans for the Potsdam Science Park.
Agnes von Matuschka, you have been at the Potsdam Science Park since January 2018. Do you still remember the impressions you had on your first day at work?
Yes, I do remember. I took the regional express and was glad about the good public transport connections from Berlin. Then I walked across a beautiful meadow to the new office. The site seemed very modern and international to me, English was spoken everywhere. On the other hand, I got the impression that it was a bit empty, because there were and still are no places to pass the time such as cafés or a small newspaper kiosk. The infrastructure, especially foot paths and cycle routes, was also still not developed. I instantly knew: This has to be tackled.
You started with ambitious plans. About two and a half years later, coronavirus has turned our lives completely upside down. To what extent did you have to adjust your plans and visions?
The vision is unrestricted. We do not let coronavirus get in the way. Every person involved is continuing to work on developing the Potsdam Science Park into an innovation and business location for life sciences and biotechnology. People returning to the site after the pandemic will not recognise some of the streets. Two new laboratory complexes for companies have been built, the University of Potsdam has further expanded the Golm Campus, and new roads have been constructed for the development of the Technology Campus. The pandemic has also forced us to rethink and collectively search for new solutions. Be it conferences and events taking place online, our monthly virtual site tour, or the good cooperation with the University of Potsdam in setting up a mobile centre for COVID quick tests. Although we currently no longer meet each other in person, we are successfully continuing our joint initiatives and the work, of course, must go on.
Currently, campus life and private exchange have literally been shut down. Many work from home. Has the pandemic reduced the demand for office space?
Actually, the pandemic has had almost no impact on the demand for rental or commercial space in the Potsdam Science Park, such as laboratory and office combinations or space for research-related companies. There has been constant demand for the last one and a half years. In fact, the pandemic is causing more money to be invested in research in the health sector. This is especially driving the demand for laboratory space. There is still a lot of life in the GO:IN Innovation and Start-up Centre, which is also home to the location management of the Potsdam Science Park. In the field of scientific research there are simply different working conditions and you cannot run a laboratory at home. Here it has been more of a challenge to implement the pandemic-related health requirements so that everyone stays healthy.
Three years have passed since you started your position. What is your interim conclusion? What are you proud of and what do you wish for the future?
A lot has happened, and a lot is currently in motion. The park has evolved from the Golm Science Park (with the official title being “Wissenschaftspark Golm” in German) to the Potsdam Science Park with an international corporate identity. The numbers of social media followers are growing steadily and the interest in and attention for the Science Park are increasing. Our new website has also been well received. We offer a variety of new formats to raise awareness of founder-related issues and we link scientists interested in starting a business with like-minded people. Together with our partners, the Brandenburg Economic Development Corporation (WFBB) and the University of Potsdam, we are creating an attractive ecosystem for start-ups from science. Our Startup Space at the GO:IN opened two years ago and is fully occupied. In some cases, we have had to send companies away because the demand is currently greater than the supply. We want to further promote innovation and exchange with local residents and the Golm district. We would like to have a new building at Golm station where all interested parties can meet, exchange ideas, or work together and where founders’ exhibitions and prototypes can be displayed.
What do you see as the main attraction of the Potsdam Science Park?
We support newcomers to the Science Park in many ways, for example with our Welcome Service. We can help them find accommodation and we offer language courses in German and English. We have also compiled information on cooperation opportunities and usable resource utilisation of the neighbouring institutes and companies in our Service and Research Guide. For companies, for example, we offer a settlement consultation hour. We do our best to meet and support interested parties or new companies upon their arrival in Golm interested parties or new companies and attempt a so-called soft landing with the new members in our community. This is very well received and enables us to attract and retain companies and skilled workers.
For the Technische Universität Berlin, you built up the Career Service and start-up support and made over 100 start-ups in the technical field fit for the market. What are your plans to attract more founders to the Potsdam Science Park in Potsdam-Golm?
We are relying on classic instruments that already proved their usefulness during my time at the TU Berlin. These include offering further education and creating spaces for exchange where like-minded people can meet and work on ideas. We open seminars to all participants with start-up ideas in the Potsdam Science Park, regardless of whether they are graduates or scientists from abroad. The subject matter ranges from classic start-up topics such as financing or prototyping to questions such as: “How do I put together a team?” We can also provide coaches from the various sectors who are very experienced and successful. There are funding consultation hours and we refer people to the University expert team and EXIST funding program.
Why should founders set up their companies in the Potsdam Science Park and not elsewhere?
We are primarily targeting companies and founders from life sciences, optics, chemistry, physics and digitalisation, computer science, and mathematics. These target groups will find many advantages to setting up their business in Potsdam-Golm: They will find equipped offices, laboratories with air filtration systems, and the entire infrastructure to install equipment. There is an excellent network for exchanging ideas with other companies and they also have access to research institutions and the Potsdam start-up network. So founders find a community here that helps them grow better and faster. It is not without good reason that the University of Potsdam is ranked third in the national start-up ranking.
As managing director, do you have a special heartfelt wish for the next few years?
Yes, I would like to develop the Science Park into a business and innovation park. Research is the foundation here, with many new ideas and products being generated. We want to give these ideas and spin-offs the opportunity to grow and develop and we want to attract further start-ups and medium-sized companies to the location.
Is there an aspect about which you are not yet completely satisfied?
There are two important points. Firstly, the public transport connections, and secondly, we would like to see a new, lively centre for the Science Park and Golm. Eighty-six percent of international scientists commute to Potsdam-Golm by regional train. We are committed to extending the continuous transport connection to Berlin into the evening hours and throughout the day. The process of adding more buildings with cafés and shops around the station literally cannot go fast enough. The state capital Potsdam is already working on a framework plan, so we hope that the first shops will open at the station in 5 years. What we are happy about is the direct link from the Golm station to the new international airport BER.
You studied in Hohenheim, Stuttgart, and Berlin and have spent time abroad in the USA and Great Britain. From your personal experience, what is so special about the Potsdam Science Park?
For me, the landscape here in Potsdam-Golm is really unique. I am a passionate cyclist. When I come from a meeting in the city centre and cycle through Park Sanssouci along the Lindenallee and past flowering meadows to the Potsdam Science Park, it is simply beautiful. I am convinced that this environment also inspires science. The institutes have extensive flowering fields and pastures around and behind the buildings and students cultivate their own garden. With few distractions, you can fully focus on science or the process of founding a company. There is a very supportive environment and a lot of cooperation. We have a very special atmosphere here.
Agnes von Matuschka, thank you for the interview.
This blog and the projects of the Standortmanagement Golm GmbH in the Potsdam Science Park are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the State of Brandenburg.