Research lays the foundation for our future. How important is it to the Rector of Graz University of Technology (TU Graz) that research results are turned into businesses?
Harald Kainz: We founded the "entrepreneurial university" five years ago, support it with special lectures, courses, projects and advisory services and are closely connected with the Start-up Garage. With Science Park Graz, we operate our own ideas incubator. As you can see, this is a priority topic for us, which we are pushing with a whole series of support programmes. We see our-selves as an investor – and we're leading the way. And that shouldn't change.
Entrepreneurial thinking is very important at TU Graz: Numerous staff members and students develop business ideas, found start-ups and turn innovative ideas into reality. Comprehensive programmes and offers, with which TU Graz supports and promotes its founders can be found on the website „Gründen an der TU Graz“.
Are there any figures on how many spin-offs TU Graz produces?
Every year we produce one or two real spin-offs, where we also benefit from the royalties because they are founded by employees. In addition, there are about eight start-ups each year by students or graduates; many of them in the area of sustainable systems. Altogether, TU Graz today holds stakes in 18 companies with 1,300 employees. 16 years ago, there were 170 employees. These figures illustrate the dynamics.
Does this diminish the importance of basic research?
Absolutely not. Without basic research, these spin-offs would not exist. I see it as a seedbed for the company start-ups. As TU Graz, we invest in both basic and application-oriented research – we need both areas in parallel. The spin-offs are obviously a figurehead for us, as are our student teams. Each year, 250 to 300 students are involved in these teams. We have several reigning world champions at TU Graz – they compete in championships against other students worldwide and even beat teams from MIT or Stanford. That is impressive and also the perfect entrepreneurial training for young people.
How important is teamwork in research?
Our students already benefit during their studies from our global cooperation network and our strategic university partnerships – with universities from Singapore, Shanghai and St. Petersburg to Munich, Darmstadt and Glasgow. (Harald Kainz)
Today, nothing works without teamwork. The time when individuals shaped science is over. We have bundled our research fields into the five Fields of Expertise and designed them to be interdisciplinary. Our interdisciplinary lead project initiative also shows that the results are more than the sum of the individual research areas. Inter-university and international collaborations are a matter of course anyway. Our students already benefit during their studies from our global cooperation network and our strategic university partnerships – with universities from Singapore, Shanghai and St. Petersburg to Munich, Darmstadt and Glasgow. The student teams of TU Graz are also always interdisciplinary in nature. Team spirit is in their DNA.
Catchphrase future orientation. From materials research and fuel cells to logistics and environmental sensor technology – sustainability is playing a role in more and more areas. How do you see this?
As a university of technology, we have been concerned with issues such as environmental protection and the sustainable use of resources for many decades. Most of our projects have to do with sustainability. Now we're also taking on a pioneering role here and want to become the first climate-neutral university in Austria. We're investing a lot – over 10 million euros. I am particularly pleased about the considerable internal enthusiasm. Because everyone is involved with it in their own research areas, everyone supports it. Just as we want our students to develop and implement visions, we do it ourselves. We advise industry and other universities on climate neutrality and have persuaded the City of Graz to follow suit. We have the know-how and are passing it on so that others can jump on board. "If we're generating enthusiasm, it's working." Then it runs almost by itself.
If we're generating enthusiasm, it's working. Then it runs almost by itself. (Harald Kainz)