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Questions about EXIST Women

Target group

Is funding under EXIST Women limited to women with a business idea that is related to a science and technology-based or service-based innovation?

No, women interested in setting up a business without a specific business in mind or with an idea not linked to technology can also receive funding. During the funding period, participants can develop an innovation approach that will increase the viability of the startup idea. Ultimately, the business ideas should be oriented to a subsequent commercial activity.

Can female students also receive funding?

Yes, if they have completed at least 50% of their studies at the beginning of the funding period or already have a bachelor’s degree.

Do female graduates and students have to study or have studied at the applicant institution?

No, this is not a requirement.

In what cases can women who have a vocational training qualification but no degree receive funding?

EXIST Women funding is available for women with a connection to a higher education institution, for example current or former employees, members of an existing startup team supported by the startup network, and women interested in becoming members of a higher education institution startup team.

I have already worked as a freelancer/in my own startup in the past. Can I still receive EXIST Women funding?

The funding is directed primarily at women who are still at the beginning of their startup career and who wish to familiarise themselves with issues related to setting up a business and self-employment at an early stage. You can discuss with the startup network in charge whether the skills development measures offered make sense for you as an active entrepreneur and whether the higher education or research institution still has spare capacity to include you in its EXIST Women application.

Can women working full-time also receive funding?

Yes, the skills development programme offered under EXIST Women can also be attended in tandem with work. Similarly, working women can also benefit from the grant covering material expenses. However, the optional three-month subsistence grant requires either that no income is earned or that gainful employment is limited to a maximum of 20 hours per week.

Can future female entrepreneurs receive the three-month subsistence grant even if they do not yet have a specific business idea?

Yes, that is possible. Ideally, the grant is used to work particularly intensively on the startup idea and, for example, to prepare an application for follow-up funding. However, the grant can also be obtained independently of this.

I am interested in starting a business, but I am not currently working at a higher education or research institution. Who should I contact?

Contact the startup network of a higher education or research institution in your region and ask if they are planning to apply for EXIST Women funding and if there are still places available.

Can an aspiring female entrepreneur take part in EXIST Women several times?


Compatibility with other funding programmes/gainful employment

I am already receiving funding under the EXIST Business Startup Grant / EXIST Transfer of Research. Can I additionally apply for funding under EXIST Women?

No, in cases where the female entrepreneur has received or is receiving funding from another EXIST programme or a startup funding programme at Länder level, they cannot receive funding under EXIST Women. However, in cases where a person has only applied for funding under the EXIST Business Startup Grant / EXIST Transfer of Research or a similar funding programme at Länder level and the application has been rejected, they can still receive funding under EXIST Women.

Can I apply for additional startup funding during or after the time I receive funding under EXIST Women?

Yes, that is possible. An application for funding under the EXIST Business Startup Grant / EXIST Transfer of Research or a startup funding programme at Länder level can be submitted either during or after the end the EXIST Women fundind period. The skills development programme offered as part of EXIST Women can be continued even after funding from another programme has been granted. The grant for material expenses will also continue to be available. However, female entrepreneurs receiving funding under the EXIST Business Startup Grant / EXIST Transfer of Research or any other funding programme will not receive the subsistence grant.

Rights and obligations of aspiring female entrepreneurs

Is it mandatory for participants to take part in the skills development courses offered as part of EXIST Women?

Yes. The participants must take part in the female entrepreneurs seminar and the biannual female entrepreneurs conferences. In addition, they are expected to take part regularly in the events organised by the local startup network.

Do I have to pay back the funding if I do not start a business in the end?

EXIST Women is a programme to make women aware of the possibilities of starting their own business and help them develop their skills. There is no obligation to set up a business.

Do the participants have to submit a business plan at the end of the funding period?

No. However, it is recommended that they develop the key elements of their business model, validate their startup idea and draw up a roadmap setting out the next steps to be taken. At the end of the funding period, the female entrepreneur prepares a one-pager with a concise description of the startup idea.

Advice, coaching

Our higher education/research institution currently does not offer advisory or skills development measures tailored specifically to female entrepreneurs. Can we still participate in EXIST Women?

Yes, if the specific advisory and skills development services are in the process of being established. However, they must be available to the female entrepreneurs at the latest at the beginning of the funding period.

Our higher education/research institution already offers advisory or skills development measures tailored specifically to female entrepreneurs. Do they have to add new programmes to their offer?

No, however the programmes already in place should be enhanced and expanded.

What counts as a measure tailored specifically to female entrepreneurs?

The measures should be tailored to the needs of women planning to start their own business (preliminary surveys can be conducted to find out). This means that the measures should address issues that are relevant especially for female entrepreneurs (such as combining business and family, business models for social impact startups, tolerance for making mistakes, dealing with discrimination etc.) and also include the very first stages of startup support (raising awareness for the possibilities of starting one’s own business, development of business ideas, promotion of creativity and ingenuity). Then measures can also cover ‘general’ startup issues, but which are offered in a format specifically tailored to female entrepreneurs (for example: ‘approaching investors for female entrepreneurs’, ‘pitch training for female entrepreneurs’ etc.)

The measures can be offered either for women only in a ‘safe space’ or for both women and men in an open format. Apart from skills development courses, the teaching of soft skills, networking events and female role models sharing their experience also count as specific measures.

However, the individual support offered by the startup network to the female entrepreneurs as part of the funding programme does not count as a female entrepreneur-specific measure as it is a basic element of the programme already. In any case, startup networks should seek to design their services in a way that is tailored to women’s needs, involve female entrepreneurs who can serve as role models and raise the visibility of female entrepreneurs in their public outreach activities.

Do higher education/research institutions have to offer all of the above-mentioned measures specifically designed for female entrepreneurs? How many measures does each institution have to offer?

The applicant institution decides for itself which and how many measures it wants to include in its application. The advisory and skills development measures need to fit the needs of the female entrepreneurs at the respective institution. Some good practice examples of support for female entrepreneurs can be found here. The female entrepreneurs-specific measures offered by the institution play an important role in the evaluation of applications.

Can measures tailored specifically to female entrepreneurs be offered in cooperation with other higher education/research institutions or third parties?

Yes, however, the applicant institution’s share in the measures should be made clear. Networking between different institutions and with external partners is desirable.

Are the advisory and skills development measures tailored specifically to female entrepreneurs reserved for women receiving funding under EXIST Women? Are only women allowed to take part?

If there are sufficient places available, higher education/research institutions should also allow persons who are not receiving EXIST Women funding to take part in the female entrepreneurs-specific advisory and skills development measures. Depending on whether or not the institution wishes to offer the measure in a closed ‘safe space’, the participation of men interested in starting their own business is also possible (for example in events on combining family and business).

Can a mentor coach more than one aspiring female entrepreneur?

Yes, provided that the mentor has sufficient time to do so.

Conditions governing the application/implementation process

Can an application be submitted for just one female entrepreneur?

No, the higher education/research institution can submit an application for 5-10 entrepreneurs per funding round.

Can an institution submit more than one application?

No. Institutions are permitted to submit only one application for 5-10 entrepreneurs per round.

Does the institution have to give the names of the women to receive funding already at the moment of application?

No, the names of the aspiring entrepreneurs can be given at a later point in time.

However, an early selection is preferable in order to allow the entrepreneurs to receive individual support for as long as possible. As a general rules, the names of the women and their mentors should be given within 2 to 4 months at the latest after the beginning of the funding period. In exceptional cases, an additional name can be given up to 6 months after funding has started. For entrepreneurs whose name has been given as N.N., please indicate graduate grant in the application.

Can higher education/research institutions also make a joint application?

No, applications have to be submitted by one institution. However, it is possible for several institutions to jointly organise the support for female entrepreneurs in their region and for the applicant institution to include entrepreneurs from a partner institution in its application. The support grant is only awarded to the applicant institution.

Is the higher education/research institution required to support the aspiring female entrepreneurs over 12 months or can the support be offered over a shorter period in an ‘intensive phase’? Can the aspiring female entrepreneurs take part in the EXIST Women programme for less than 12 months?

The EXIST Women advisory and skills development programme includes centralised and decentralised measures which are spread out over a period of 12 months. The aspiring entrepreneurs should thus ideally go through the full programme. In the first EXIST Women round of applications, many of the applicant institutions will need to establish suitable structures and processes, which could mean that the individual support is offered over less than 12 months. It is possible to pool the decentralised measures in a shorter ‘intensive phase’. Before and after the ‘intensive phase’, the participants will receive individual support from the startup network.

At what time can the subsistence grant be obtained?

The 3-month grant can be obtained at any time during the 12-month project period. As a rule, the grant should be claimed for three consecutive months.

In cases where a female entrepreneur receiving funding leaves the project, is it possible to replace her with another female entrepreneur during the duration of the project?

No, in cases where costs have already been incurred in the project for the first entrepreneur, this is not possible.

The goal of the funding is to increase the number of female entrepreneurs at the institution. Are there any requirements in terms of numbers?

No, however, the number of female entrepreneurs before and after the start of funding is recorded and used in the progress monitoring process for the overall programme.

What can the €10,000 support grant be used for?

The funding can be used towards fees, the creation of communication media/printing costs, costs for renting event locations, student assistants etc. In the proof-of-use document, only the lump-sum total of the support grant is indicated.

What can the grant for material expenses of €2,000 per participant be used for?

The startup network coordinates with the aspiring entrepreneur (and if necessary the mentor) to set down the entrepreneur’s roadmap and milestones for the project period and to plan the use of the material resources. The funding can be used for example towards:
• Technical equipment
• Material for prototypes
• Travel costs
• Attendance fees for events
• Additional coaching

Can the project management agency reject funding for individual female entrepreneurs?

No, the project management agency approves or rejects the overall application of the institution, not individual entrepreneurs. The applicant institution carries out the selection process and is responsible for ensuring that the selected candidates meet the entry requirements.

How does the application and selection process at the applicant institution work?

The applicant institution informs the target group in its own institution and, if necessary, beyond as broadly as possible about its planned application to EXIST Women (public announcement). It advises potential applicants on the funding programme and encourages them to apply. The institution designates the body in charge of ensuring a transparent selection process, formulates the selection criteria and documents the selection process. The selection of the female entrepreneurs to receive funding can take place after the start, ideally within 2 months, of the funding period (see above).

What kind of infrastructure does the applicant higher education/research institution have to provide to the female entrepreneurs?

The institutions have to provide employment (e.g. at startup incubators, libraries, etc.) to the female entrepreneurs and allow them to use the workshops, laboratories, data centres and/or other facilities and resources free of charge for the development work taking place during or outside working hours during the duration of the funding period. There is no entitlement to receive equipment such as a laptop.

Does EXIST Women receive funding from the ESF?

No, not in the pilot phase starting in 2023. We envisage to apply for ESF funding for the follow-up rounds.

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