EXIST – Existenzgründungen aus der Wissenschaft

EXIST – University-Based Business Start-Ups

EXIST is a support programme of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

Internal hyperlinks for navigation


This programme aims at improving the entrepreneurial environment at universities and research institutes. It also aims at increasing the number and success of technology and knowledge based business start-ups.

The BMWK supports university graduates, scientists as well as students to this end in preparing their technology and knowledge based start-ups. EXIST also promotes a lively and lasting entrepreneurial culture at public and private universities.


EXIST has been successfully supporting start-up networks, universities and non-university research institutions since 1998.

The aim is to increase the number of innovative spin-offs with the help of start-up support services in teaching, research and administration. Under the umbrella of "EXIST-Gründungskultur", the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) has therefore conducted the funding competitions EXIST I - IV (see below) in recent years. Currently, the EXIST-Potentials competition round is underway, supporting a total of 142 public and private universities.

Since 2000, EXIST has also supported university graduates, scientists and students in the development of their start-up projects with financial grants and know-how.


EXIST Milestones


1998 EXIST: five EXIST modell regions (EXIST I)


2000 support programme EXIST-SEED


2002 EXIST-Transfer: ten Entrepreneurial Networks (EXIST II)


2005 EXIST-SEED nationwide


2006 The Support of 47 Entrepreneurial Networks for universities and research institutes (EXIST III)


2007 Support programme EXIST Business Start-up Grants


2007 EXIST Transfer of Research: individual start-up support


2010 Start of the competition: EXIST Culture of Entrepreneurship - Entrepreneur University (EXIST IV)


2014 EXIST Business Start-up Grant and EXIST Transfer of Research: new funding conditions


2016 Support lump sum for universities


2018 EXIST-Potentials


2019 EXIST potentials - application and project phase


2020 Record value at EXIST Business Start-up Grant


2021 Start of four AI model projects


2022 EXIST is part of the Federal Government's start-up strategy


2023 New directives for the EXIST Business Start-up Grant and the EXIST Transfer of Research and new programme EXIST-Women

Universities cooperating with partners from the fields of science, business and politics could apply. These regional networks were to lay the prerequisites for motivating, training and assisting entrepreneurial personalities and a suitable offer was to be developed for students, staff and graduates. A jury chose five model regions from 200 applicants.

This support programme was initiated to motivate students, graduates and scientists at the universities in the five EXIST model regions to start up a business. Innovative start-up projects at universities were funded for a maximum period of one year. EXIST SEED was extended to universities nationwide in the year 2005.

A further ten networks from the German academic community were chosen for the support. The corpus of knowledge of the five model regions from EXIST I was transferred to the ten Entrepreneurial Networks. A broad exchange of experience with a further 20 partner regions took place.

EXIST-SEED can be applied for by people interested in founding a company at all universities nationwide.

The EXIST III support programme, "Promoting Entrepreneurship at Universities and Research institutes" was to fill the remaining gaps in the qualification and support services provided. Particular importance was laid on including research institutes. EXIST III concentrated on clearly defined and differentiated projects that would be carried out together with partners. Some of these projects are still going on.

As a follow-up measure of EXIST SEED, students, university staff as well as graduates receive the EXIST Business Start-up Grant for a year to prepare a start-up business. Funding for personnel costs come from an individual grant. A separate budget for coaching is given to the start-up teams being funded.

EXIST Transfer of Research supports outstanding research-based start-up projects that involve complex and high-risk development work. EXIST Transfer of Research consists of two funding phases.

Universities are supported in developing and implementing a university-wide strategy of developing their status as institutions with a reputation for entrepreneurship. Universities taking part are requested to improve their entrepreneurial management and to position themselves as universities with an entrepreneurial profile.

EXIST Business Start-up Grant and EXIST Transfer of Research will be increased by approximately 25 percent; material funding for both program

In October 2016, the child allowance will be increased and the flat-rate support allowance for universities or start-up networks will be introduced.

In November 2018, the EXIST Potentials funding guideline will come into force as part of EXIST Start-up culture. With this, the German government aims to further develop the start-up networks at universities that have been established as part of EXIST Start-up culture. In addition, small and medium-sized universities that have not yet taken advantage of EXIST funding will receive support.

A total of 220 applications have been submitted for the project phase. This means that universities in Germany have expressed their interest in participating across the board. The expert juries will select 101 projects for the funding priorities "Regional Networking," "Leveraging Potential," and "International Conviction. They will receive funding of around 150 million euros over the next four years as part of the project phase.

With 426 applications for EXIST business start-up grants, the demand was higher than at any time since the start in 2007. The number of approved start-up projects was also at a new high of 229.

Hamburg, Munich, Darmstadt and Berlin are particularly strong in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). In December, these regions therefore each launched an AI model project funded by the BMWK's EXIST-programme. The EXIST AI model projects are intended to raise the funding of AI start-ups to a new level.

According to the Federal Government's start-up strategy: - The new EXIST-Women funding line is intended to make it easier for women interested in starting a business to take the step into self-employment and to sustainably increase their participation in start-up teams.- The compatibility of family and start-up will be strengthened. - The new flaghship competition Startup Factories will differ significantly from the broad-based university funding that has been available up to now. - Public welfare-oriented spin-offs from science are to be further strengthened in the EXIST-programme. - IP transfer is to be made simpler and more transparent.

The guidelines replace the previously valid funding guidelines for EXIST Business Start-up Grant and EXIST Transfer of Research. Both programmes are co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF). Accordingly, funding applications can be submitted until 31.12.2027, which gives potential founders planning security for the next few years.

Back to top