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Three Minutes for the Best Idea

The SPARK start-up contest celebrates students’ entrepreneurial spirit

Freiburg, Aug 03, 2020

Three Minutes for the Best Idea

Photo: Redpixel/

An app that makes printing out coupons obsolete, a diagnostic tool that delivers rapid results in structurally weak regions, and an app that helps find accommodation: all ways of making the world a nicer and better place. After weeks full of workshops and presentations, thirteen student teams made it to the digital demo day, the final event in the SPARK start-up contest. In pitches lasting three minutes they presented the strengths and weaknesses of their ideas. The Foundersclub Freiburg group initiated the competition and with it a platform for the entrepreneurial spirit of young scientists.

The start-up contest prizes were awarded in the three categories ‘Sustainability’, ‘Scalability’ and ‘Social Impact’.
Photo: Redpixel/

Bakeries proved particularly resourceful at the start of the year: stringing up one receipt after another and displaying them in the shop like a string of bunting, or a whole shop window full of till slips. Introduced on 1 January 2020 the compulsory issue of receipts, aka the Bonpflicht, is an irritation to retailers and provided the press with photos of civil disobedience actions. Conceived as a way of preventing tax dodging, the law created paper chaos. Worse still: often the receipts are on thermal paper which can’t be recycled and is reputed to be harmful to health. Nobody is unaffected by this problem. So it’s no surprise that the Neobon team won two awards at the demo day. Their idea of transmitting the data to a smartphone instead of printing a receipt was not only popular with the jury but also with the audience. Neobon receives both the prize voted for by the public, which is endowed with 500 euros, and the award in the category ‘Sustainability’, which brings with it a cash prize of 2,000 euros.

Competition as catalyst

Thirteen of the original fourteen teams reached the final pitch in the SPARK start-up contest. They included ideas for a diet tailored to your own genes, the cultivation of basil, spinach and tomatoes as tower-block gardening, and batteries for electric cars on a loan basis. Many of the teams met up spontaneously, and had initial ideas for a start-up but no definite direction. Neobon, which was launched by three students from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, is typical of the participants. The competition worked as a catalyst for the young start-up and the prize money has made founding a business easier. The idea for Neobon already existed before the competition, but it significantly boosted its development. After SPARK, said Thomas Völk from Neobon, the team was able to add new members, bringing their numbers up to six.

Since April there have been prototypes for the app and the Neobon printer – in case shoppers decide they need a paper receipt after all. The costs per printer, which is linked to the till, is estimated at under 150 euros by Völk. Other solutions based on a QR code are usually dearer. In addition, Neobon works independently of the Internet, making it a potential solution in rural areas where Internet connections are often poor. During the start-up contest, which also involved ten workshops, including subjects such as ‘Website’ and ‘Financing’, and other events, the Neobon team was able to hold talks with a patent solicitor. Völk felt that the fact that SPARK provided teams with mentors was helpful. Neobon now wants to discuss legal aspects with the appropriate authorities, and after that hold discussions with retailers.

Rapid diagnostic tool

The fact that the Foundersclub Freiburg has a strong network can be seen amongst other things in the jury which consists of start-up experts Yalun Meng from LexRocket, Hanna Böhme, managing director or Freiburg Wirtschaft Touristik und Messe, Ivan Aćimović from the Stabsstelle Open Government der Stadt Freiburg and Hansjörg Lerchenmüller from the Black Forest Business Angels. They decided on the prizes in the three categories ‘Sustainability’, ‘Scalability’ and ‘Social Impact’, which each came with 2,000 euros. The workshop leaders and mentors also represent strong contacts in industry.

The decision by Foundersclub to make English the official language of the competition meant that initiatives such as PapSamurAI also had a chance: The scientists are positioned internationally and work in the fields of medicine and machine learning. Besides the University of Freiburg the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, and Purdue University, USA, were also partners of the start-up. Its diagnostic imaging procedure for cervical cancer is based on artificial intelligence and responds to the fact that a majority of women who die of this disease come from developing countries. Laboratories usually need a full seven days to test a smear – with the small portable device from PapSamurAI it would take about ten minutes and the results would be known there and then. The algorithms are also less prone to errors. In structurally weak areas especially, the diagnostic tool could be extremely useful. PapSamurAI took the prize in the category ‘Scalability’.

Home from home with ‘Besenkammer’

The benefits of the start-up initiative that took the ‘Social Impact’ prize was also immediately obvious. After all, while you can find an 18 square meter room in a shared flat in Freiburg for 735 euros – a bit steep! – maybe the chemistry with your flatmates doesn’t work out, so all in all looking for a place can be extremely frustrating. The team that developed the ‘Besenkammer’ app, which matches potential landlords with tenants, advises taking plenty of time for the search.

There’s a brief questionnaire for both sides to find out whether you’re a good match, whether you have a pet allergy, your need for privacy and willingness to help out in the home or garden. Older landlords especially, who may be reluctant to enter into long-term tenancies, could benefit from having young tenants – and this would give the youngsters a reliable start allowing a couple of months to look around for a longer-term home without pressure. The team from ‘Besenkammer’ takes care of the time-consuming paperwork. Once a Freiburg version is ready, the team wants to expand its app to other student cities.

Thanks to the start-up help from SPARK at least one of these projects could make a noise for itself.

Annette Hoffmann


Article on Foundersclub Freiburg in the online magazine