Christian Elias Schneider has been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel for eight months now. His job is to promote entrepreneurship and projects in collaboration with industry.
Mr. Schneider, you took on a newly created post at the University of Basel. The idea is to give innovation a face at the university. What specifically does that mean in terms of your work?
We picked two focal areas: first, attention should be drawn to the topic of entrepreneurship at the university. Researchers with good ideas should have incentives to monetize these ideas. And those who are already working towards this goal should receive more support. The second focal area is on collaboration with the business world. The objective here is to realize more projects together with industry partners.
How do you go about this task?
In the many conversations I’ve had with startups at the university in recent months, it has become clear that there are hardly any connections within this scene; many of the entrepreneurs have never met each other. Of course, many young entrepreneurs struggle with the same problems, so we brought them together and founded the Entrepreneurs Club to give them a platform for sharing and discussion. We want the entrepreneurs to see themselves as a team – a group that is recognized and valued by the university and by society. We can offer them access to people who would be difficult to approach individually.
What can you offer the entrepreneurs? What have they been waiting for, and what have they been lacking?
First, the startups at the university were lacking visibility. People didn’t know who they were, and they were often completely on their own. We believe our role is to offer them visibility – both within the university and externally – and help them build relationships with industry partners, the financial sector and other service providers. There are also plans to offer startups expert coaching and mentoring at an early stage.
For a few months you have been offering courses that teach University of Basel students and staff important startup skills, such as preparing business plans, handling IP rights and much more. How have these new resources been received?
Demand is huge. We have been practically overrun and overwhelmed by the success. As a result, we are considering to expand the service, with the goal of talking to students about these important issues at an early stage. The earlier that entrepreneurs deal with these issues, the fewer mistakes they will make later. For example, it’s important that we make researchers aware of IP issues very early in the game. Otherwise, they run the risk of revealing important knowledge too soon and then being unable to protect it. These courses offer help at an early stage, and this support can then be smoothly incorporated into coaching.
For the last eight months, you have been Head of Innovation at the University of Basel. What responses have you seen so far?
Everyone I’ve talked to in recent months has given very positive – in fact, enthusiastic – feedback about our innovation initiative and other resources. Clearly, it was time that the University of Basel actively tackled this issue and filled a gap.
On November 10, the University of Basel will be holding its first Innovation Day in Allschwil. What can we expect?
At the Innovation Day, we will demonstrate what is important to us: bringing people together, debating innovation, developing new ideas – and doing this in a stimulating and open atmosphere. More than 200 people have signed up, the waiting list is long and we’re happy that this new event has been so well received right from the start.
What would you like to achieve over the next two years?
Startups should feel at home at the University of Basel. The individuals should connect with each other, and an active, dynamic scene should emerge that will also interest startups in the region as a whole. In the long term, we may certainly evolve into a hub with an international appeal that will attract founders and young entrepreneurs. We want to help Basel become a preferred place for many startups to realize their visionary ideas. We will be able to do this only if we work closely with all partners: with the local universities, with institutions such as BaselArea.swiss – and, most importantly, with industry partners. In discussion with business, it is clear that the doors are open.
Interview: Matthias Geering, Head of Communications & Marketing at University of Basel