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Entrepreneurship is flourishing at Danish universities

Inniti is a startup company based on a bachelor thesis project, with help from cleantech company Aquaporin. Support for entrepreneurship among students has become more professional in recent years, according to the Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship.
Anders Lund (left) and Malthe Muff are in the first year of their master’s degree while simultaneously working full time on their startup company Inniti.

Publiceret: 28.02.2018
Af Sara Krog P. Knudsen mail

Surrounded by robot technology and mechanical tentacles Malthe Muff and Anders Lund are busy working on their startup. We are at Aalborg University in Copenhagen (AAU), where the two 24-year-old engineering students are well on their way to actualising their thesis project and becoming a real company with clients and a financial statement.

Technically, the somewhat messy workshop is intended for the university’s professors and the projects they are working on. But the company Inniti and its orange prototype have been granted permission to be here because things are going so well. They are in need of a workplace.

“Hopefully, we’ll get an office here at the university soon. That will be good,” says Anders Lund, CTO of Inniti.

Together with his classmate, he has invented a product that can automate processes for research chemists. More specifically, their solution is meant to replace the expensive manual labour that drips liquids into test tubes during chemical experiments. This is relevant if a company or research institution perform a lot of standard testing, for example.

The company also has a third person. That is Chief Development Officer Mattheo Fumagalli, who used to be the two students’ professor. He believes in the project so much that he has decided to dedicate his time to it.

Help from the established business community

Inniti has a prototype that they have developed together with cleantech company Aquaporin. The robot has already been taken into use and is responsible for part of the quality control that Aquaporin does to test its membranes.

It is AAU that has set up the cooperation, which was already in place at the outset of the thesis project. Aquaporin subsequently saw such potential in Inniti that they offered to extend the cooperation.
In general, the cleantech company cooperates a great deal with university students. This creates good development opportunities amongst students and the business community, according to Jörg Vogel, Head of Technology Development at Aquaporin.

“We get research we may not have time to carry out in our daily operations. During that process, we train people that could end up getting a job with us the future. It’s a win-win situation. Universities are able to widen the scope of their teaching by working together with industries,” says Jörg Vogel.

He himself joined the company following a collaboration project that was part of his studies.

According to Malthe Muff and Anders Lund, the cooperation with Aquaporin has been crucial for taking next step. Together the with the cleantech company’s research department, they have tested their product and received feedback. That has given them a kind of stamp of approval.

“Having a partner in the right industry has given us a shortcut into everything. It is a major advantage that we are able to use Aquaporin in our marketing, and it is a good brand to be associated with,” says Malthe Muff, CEO of Inniti.

“It definitely gave us some courage, too,” he adds.

More student entrepreneurs

Inniti is one of an increasing number of companies founded by students at Danish universities.

At the University of Southern Denmark, the number of student enterprises affiliated with the university’s innovation programme has increased from 14 in 2015 to 83 today. At the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), 45 student enterprises were registered in 2016, while the University of Copenhagen has 73 student enterprises receiving advice on starting a company alongside their studies.

And there is reason to believe that the companies growing out of Danish universities are strong. Data from the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education shows that 58 per cent of companies growing out of public research institutions still exist six years down the road.

That is high compared to the overall survival rate for new Danish companies, where 41 per cent of the companies set up in the years 2005-2007 survived the first six years.

Student entrepreneurship has become more professional

Overall, efforts to promote entrepreneurship among students have become more professional, says Pernille Berg, Head of Research,
Analysis and Education at the Danish Foundation for Entrepreneurship, a public foundation that works to develop entrepreneurship at all education levels.

“There is no doubt that the increasing professionalisation we are seeing at Danish universities ensures that our students can move in international circles,” says Pernille Berg.

She believes that this professionalisation is the result of an increased desire for university programmes to prepare students for the life that awaits them after graduation.

“In recent years, there has been enormous pressure on universities to take steps to ensure that students become relevant for the rest of the world. This is a task universities have chosen to solve through entrepreneurship, among other things,” says Pernille Berg.

Today, six Danish universities house a student incubator with free advising about business development - independently of scheduled classes. A telephone survey conducted by DI Business shows that four universities have more than doubled the budget or staffing of their incubator since its establishment.

Flexible help from universities

Anders Lund is continuing his master’s degree at AAU, while Malthe Muff is doing his at DTU. That means they are part of innovation programmes at both universities, and the help available to them is high-quality and comprehensive, they say.

At AAU, they have been assigned to a business developer who helps them with all the things their engineering background has not given them. They have received grants from the university to cover expenses for materials, and they are able to use the workshop at the university for free. At DTU, they participate in workshops teaching students how to pitch an idea or take the next step to expand the business.

“The advantage of working with this kind of thing while studying is that there are so many resources available. We can talk to professors who teach classes in finance and get advice. It opens up whole new opportunities,” says Malthe Muff.

Currently, they work from 9am-8pm every day and consider their studies secondary. However, most of the time they are able to combine the two and use Inniti as a case in their academic work.
In a year, Anders Lund will do an internship as part of his studies. He has been granted permission do his internship at Inniti, where he is already his own boss.

Potential for more

Back in the workshop, Inniti’s prototype emits a whooshing sound every once in a while because it is constantly being tested and improved. It consists of boxes with pumps and valves that can be assembled in various ways, depending on what kind of chemical experiment it is to assist. It is this flexibility that makes its function unique.

The company’s two owners stand up to make sure that everything is running as intended. The plan is to market and sell the prototype in the near future, and several potential clients have already expressed interest.

“When we handed in our thesis project, we knew there was potential for much more. We had spent a long time on the project, and we didn’t want to just let it go,” says Malthe Muff.

The prototype is controlled by a laptop with lots of different codes. The next step in the development will be to make operation more intuitive and simple.

“Right now, this is where we are. But our ambition is for Inniti to become much more. With all the new theories about the industry of the future we learn about in our studies, we can help many research chemists,” says Anders Lund.

FACTS
How your company can cooperate with students
In general, Danish students cooperate a great deal with the business community. If this is something your company is interested in, you can find plenty of information about your options on the university websites here:
dtu.dk/samarbejde
aau.dk/samarbejde/virksomhed

Having a partner in the right industry has given us a shortcut into everything. It is a major advantage that we are able to use Aquaporin in our marketing, and it is a good brand to be associated with

CEO MALTHE MUFF, INNITI
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PUBLISHED: 2/28/2018 LAST MODIFIED: 2/28/2018