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Pooling Expertise

A new app integrates all relevant information for founding a company and fostering a startup culture

Freiburg, Mar 02, 2018

Pooling Expertise

Photo: deagreez/fotolia

The first step toward self-employment is to develop a good business idea – but the idea alone is not enough. For prospective entrepreneurs without the necessary legal and business background, the obstacles to overcome are particularly daunting. What is the proper legal form for my company? How can I patent my invention? Where can I find financial support, and what tax formalities do I need to observe? An interdisciplinary team at the University of Freiburg aims to provide answers to this questions: The researchers are developing an app that provides basic information on founding a company and helps nascent entrepreneurs connect with each other.

Bringing together inventors, businesspeople, and jurists: A successful startup needs expertise from different disciplines. A new app will help entrepreneurs find appropriate partners.
Photo: deagreez/Fotolia

“We want to offer an app that integrates all of the relevant information and is easy to work with – regardless of one’s professional background,” explains Wolfgang Kessler, professor for corporate taxation, who is developing the app together with his assistant Dominik Probst. Kessler and Probst had students write two wiki articles each for the app for a seminar they taught in the 2017 summer semester. The wiki will serve as a reference work on which users of the app can look up important basic information. The topics range from “finding a business idea,” “business plan,” “bookkeeping,” “taxes,” and “risk management” to “crowdfunding” and “centers for entrepreneurship.” “Some of the topics were suggested by the students themselves,” reports Probst. “The goal was to cover topics the students found interesting and to present the information in generally  understandable language.”

An app makes important information concerning entrepreneurship readily available.
Photo: vege/Fotolia

The students also came up with questions for a learning test. The questions refer to a ten-part video lecture that is also integrated into the app. The lecture is a part of the course “Entrepreneurship: Legal and Operational Questions in Founding a Business,” which Kessler and his team offer for students of all fields of study at the University of Freiburg’s Center for Key Qualifications (ZfS). “The videos feature lectures by experienced colleagues, entrepreneurs, and managers at companies. For the topic “marketing,” for instance, we have a lecture by the former marketing director of a global publishing house,” says Kessler. Users of the app who have watched the videos can use the multiple-choice questions to check their learning progress.

One of Kessler and Probst’s colleagues is contributing further content to the app: Boris Paal, professor of civil and commercial law and media and information law, takes the approach of reaching out to young entrepreneurs in their individual life situation. “We visualize an entrepreneur who has a good idea and then simulate the process of founding a company, walking them though the legal steps one by one.” He takes some of the content from regular law courses in areas like commercial legislation and social law, and the rest comes from additional workshops and lectures he has been giving since the 2017/18 winter semester as well as his contributions to the ZfS entrepreneurship course for students of all fields.

The simulation begins with the question of how to protect an invention, the answer to which is provided by patent and trademark law. The task is then to find the right form of legal organization for the company – in connection with the question of whether the founder needs to be personally liable with his or her own assets or whether there are possibilities for limiting the founder’s liability. The rest of the questions all have to do with ways of commercializing the idea, for instance how to finance the company, what securities banks will want in return for the financing, and how to take on partners in the startup. “In this way, we have a to-do list in the app with all of the important legal points to resolve in the process of founding the company,” says Paal. “We want to help people overcome their fears and worries by showing them that everything can be taken care of with legal tools.”

Users of the app also receive important information from a database that points out information resources and funding opportunities and provides links to the relevant websites. “We are faced with a jungle of initiatives that is often confusing for prospective entrepreneurs,” says Kessler. There is a whole host of institutions and persons dealing with the topic of entrepreneurship even just at the University of Freiburg – and there are a great many special funding formats, for instance for startups from different industrial sectors. The purpose of the database is to provide an overview.” Another source of information will be reports from successful entrepreneurs, who can share their experiences, provide valuable tips, warn against pitfalls, and encourage others to take the plunge and found their own business.

In addition, the app will help users find partners or associates for their business ventures – by means of a job board designed to encourage exchange between experts in different disciplines. “A typical situation one finds is that a student from the Faculty of Engineering has developed a new technical procedure but then needs support from law or economics students who know the ins and outs of patent law or how to conduct a market analysis,” says Probst. Prospective entrepreneurs can find each other and pool their expertise by searching the board or posting their own requests. The “Freiburg Legal Clinics” also come into play here: This training program, organized by Paal, enables law students to give other students free legal advice. “We’ve added a section explicitly for entrepreneurship advising, and the students who volunteer for it are very eager to put their know-how to good use and pass it on to others.”

Keeping the Content Up To Date

The editing and programming are well underway: The app will be available free of charge for the Android and iOS operating systems and is scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2018. The Founders Office of the University of Freiburg will assume responsibility for updating the app, including editing and also adding content. “Fields of law with a bearing on entrepreneurship are undergoing dynamic development, and it is therefore necessary to keep the content up to date,” says Kessler. The app is being developed as part of the University of Freiburg project “Zugänge zum Gründen” (“Approaches to Entrepreneurship”), which is receiving 600,000 euros in funding from Baden-Württemberg’s Ministry of Science, Research, and the Arts. “I am delighted to see that the topic of entrepreneurship is receiving support from the federal and state governments,” says Paal. “In Freiburg we are doing an excellent job of fostering a startup culture.”

Nicolas Scherger