Study to evaluate start-up activity in Germany with a special focus on public research institutions

There is insufficient data in Germany on the number, success rates and effects of start-ups, especially from public research institutions and universities, so that a well-founded assessment of the situation and discussion of the problem is not possible.

As part of a project initiated by the Fraunhofer Headquarters, various institutes have dealt with spin-offs from public research institutions in general and from Fraunhofer in particular. In the sub-project "Spin-Offs from Public Research Organizations in Germany", Fraunhofer ISI carried out an international analysis of the start-up activities of research institutions together with the ZEW in Mannheim (Leibniz Institute) on behalf of the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany. In addition, representatives of leading international institutes were interviewed on their start-up activities and a method for the identification of knowledge-based start-ups was developed.

Two other parts of the project, financed and carried out exclusively by Fraunhofer, were conducted. These were analyzing spin-off activities in East and West Germany and the addressing the question of what support Fraunhofer already offers for spin-offs and start-ups. In its East-West comparison, the Fraunhofer IMW has shown that Fraunhofer spin-offs contribute to regional structural change. Spin-offs are particularly successful where there are innovation ecosystems - whether in East or West. In their analysis, based on interviews with internal and external start-up experts, Fraunhofer IAO and Fraunhofer IZM have identified existing structural, legal and financial obstacles for spin-offs. One of the central results, however, is that the incentives for setting up a business are almost non-existent and, accordingly, no broad start-up culture has been able to develop.

In this study, the extent, processes, effects and motives of spin-offs from scientific institutions are recorded both with quantitative information and examined with qualitative analyses. A special focus is on the contributions of technology and knowledge-intensive start-ups.

Comprehensive data are compiled and evaluated in a national and international comparison. In addition, obstacles and success factors of start-ups are dealt with in interviews and surveys.

Comprehensive data were compiled and evaluated in a national and international comparison. In addition, interviews and surveys were used to deal with obstacles and success factors in start-ups.

In a first work package, official spin-off data from the organizations was compiled and checked for comparability. In a second work package, knowledge-based spin-offs from research organizations and universities in Germany were identified and analysed with the help of merged start-up and company data on the one hand, as well as information on authors and inventors of the research organizations.

In a third work package, interviews were carried out with international spin-off experts.

The IP-based spin-offs from German PROs have been growing by 7.3% per year in the period 2011-2019, the ones by Fraunhofer even at a rate of 12.7% per year.

Leading German HEIs and PROs show similar levels of IP-based spin-off activity like most of the prestigious and productive research organisations and universities in Europe and the USA. Nowadays, most knowledge-based spin-offs from PROs and HEIs offer services, particularly ICT services (computer programming and software development), engineering services and R&D services. Less than 20% belong to the manufacturing sector. The vast majority of knowledge-based spin-offs founded during 2010 and 2019 was still economically active by the end of 2020 (80%). External expertise and consultancy was repeatedly mentioned as an important mechanism to improve the team of an innovative spin-off and make it a success.


completed (01.2020- 06.2021)


Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany


ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research

Fraunhofer IMW

Fraunhofer IAO

Fraunhofer IZM