From innovative idea to business plan

Innovation Week
Taking part in Innovation Week: Amit Kumar researches environmentally-friendly water purification.

How does one turn a promising technological idea into a new business in Germany? In early November, young researchers from around the world were given the opportunity to find out just how this happens. At Innovation Week, 15 budding entrepreneurs presented their start-up ideas during the course of a five-day programme. The event, which took place online this year, was being held for the second time, the first having been in 2019. It was staged – under the umbrella of “Research in Germany” – by the DAAD in cooperation with TU9, the Alliance of leading Universities of Technology in Germany.

Indian participant researches water purification

One of the participants was Amit Kumar, who was born in India and did a master’s degree in sustainable technologies there. He is currently working towards a joint PhD at the University of Belgrade in Serbia and the University of Girona in Spain. At Innovation Week, Kumar presented a new method of removing contaminants from water – pesticides, for example, or indeed pharmaceutical substances or colourants. “This is extremely difficult using conventional methods”, explains the young scientist.

To purify water, Kumar uses “cold plasma” based on the noble gas argon, which is subjected to a high electrical voltage. Plasma is the fourth fundamental state of matter – when the electrons and atomic nuclei of a gas become partially detached from one another. The plasma particles have an oxidising effect, which is how they purify the water. The process even works at room temperature and normal atmospheric pressure. According to Kumar, the fact that no environmentally harmful substances such as chlorine are needed is an additional benefit.

Seeking innovative ideas for start-ups

Kumar’s idea is that this technology would run on a renewable energy source, such as solar power. Then the devices could also be used in remote regions with no access to a reliable power supply. His PhD project is being funded by the European Union within the “Horizon 2020” framework programme.

All winners of the international “Falling Walls Labs” in the STEM subjects can apply to take part in Innovation Week. Ideally, applicants should already have an idea for an innovative technology start-up. Up to five participants are additionally nominated by the German Centres for Research and Innovation.

Individual coaching

Innovation Week includes thematic workshops, an individual coaching programme and networking opportunities. This year, the young researchers were supervised by RWTH Aachen University, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the University of Stuttgart – all three of which are members of the TU9 alliance.

“I have learnt a lot about presentation skills, but also about patents and business models of start-ups”, recounts Kumar. After completing his PhD, he plans to implement the water purification technology on a larger scale. In addition, he wants to give greater thought to how best to market the process.

Besides Kumar’s project, many other impressive ideas relating to sustainability were showcased at Innovation Week. For example, a participant from Bolivia has developed a method of producing bioplastics from the remains of the quinoa plant. The fields of medicine, pharmacology, chemistry and energy technology were also represented. At the end of Innovation Week, all participants had the chance to present their concepts one more time. While the young researchers returned to their projects with more concrete ideas for the future, the event organisers were already beginning preparations for next year’s Innovation Week, when entrepreneurial researchers will be fostered once again. In 2021, the event will be hosted by the TU9 members TU Darmstadt, TU Dresden and Leibniz University Hannover.


Video: Innovation Week 2020 in review

Watch our review video to get an impression of Innovation Week 2020! Thanks to the participants and hosts for this inspiring, insightful and exciting week. We had a lot of fun and look forward to next year.

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