Sonja Mattfeld: The Start-up Accelerator

Sonja Mattfeld is enabler and supporter of student start-up activities, she coordinates the J-CUB start-up option at Jacobs University. (Source: private) ,

To kick off start-up week Bremen & Bremerhaven on November 8th with a bang, fascinating founders, events and projects will be presented over the course of the next few weeks. One important and dedicated figure of Bremen's start-up scene is Sonja Mattfeld - enabler, supporter and coordinator of student start-up activities at Jacobs University.

As a partner in a consulting firm, she used to help German companies enter the market in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now she makes sure, others are well-equipped to realize their own business ideas: At the international Jacobs University Bremen, she coordinates the start-up option "J-CUB." This supports student and academic founders - and accompanies them from the development of ideas to market maturity.

"Opening doors, passing on knowledge and watching start-ups take their first steps is amazing. It is so great to see how they overcome hurdles and to be able to accompany them along the way," said the scientist, describing the appeal of her task. "Sharing my knowledge and learning a lot of new things myself in the process is additional motivation."

J-CUB is aimed at bachelor's students. Instead of the mandatory internship at Jacobs University, students can use the start-up option and develop a business plan. But master's students, doctoral candidates and post-docs also take advantage of the opportunity to participate in pitch training or workshops that deal with marketing and financing issues, design thinking or developing a business plan.

"The founders receive continuous, individual and professional support through J-CUB," Mattfeld said, describing the program. Nearly 20 teams took advantage of the option this year, others grasped the chance to be part of a nine-week Summer Camp, an online incubator. "The experience of starting-up, knowing that this opportunity exists, is a self-empowerment experience," Mattfeld stated,  "students learn so much."

J-CUB is embedded in a regional and national start-up ecosystem that provides further guidance and access to competitions, potential investors and mentors. "Connecting people and ideas is incredibly valuable," Sonja said. Part of this biotope is the BRIDGE network of Bremen's universities and colleges or collaborations with student clubs on campus, such as the Jacobs Start-Up Competition (JSC), the Google Student Developer Club (GSDC) or the Hult Prize Club, which is oriented toward the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

The doctoral student also offers consultations as part of EXIST, a funding program of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection: "It's incredibly rewarding and so much fun." The program supports start-ups from science. One of the projects that received funding at Jacobs University was "WasteAnt," for example. WasteAnt is a start-up founded by scientists and it aims to use artificial intelligence to help reduce waste.

Sonja Mattfeld, who specializes in the region of Africa, has since sold her shares in the consultancy she helped found, but her contacts with Africa remain close. After all, she lived there for a long time. Her passion for the continent is also reflected in her academic work. She is currently writing her doctorate on African-German business relations. She is a research assistant at the Chair of Global Markets and Firms at Jacobs University Bremen.

With Tilo Halaszovich, Professor of Global Markets and Firms at Jacobs University and the founder of J-CUB, she executed a study on the role of the African diaspora in the internationalization of German companies in Africa. And in May of this year, she organized an academic workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on digital entrepreneurship. It comes to no surprise that she recently gave the keynote speech at "fair gründen." This Bremen-based start-up conference is aimed at people who either have a sustainable project idea or want to found a start-up company with reference to a country in the Global South.

The fact that Jacobs University is perceived as a university for start-ups now, can largely be contributed to Sonja Mattfeld's commitment. But Mattfeld doesn’t stop there: The start-up culture at Jacobs University could be taken to the next level by involving even more doctoral students, master's students, researchers, and alumni, Mattfeld is certain. She also would like to grow the mentoring program. And an international university like Jacobs University, the accelerator believes, should expand its cooperation with the international start-up scene.

Start-up week will get kicked-off on November 8th. Over the next three weeks, we will present more thrilling start-up projects, stories from founders and exciting events. The contributions will be collected here: Start-ups at Jacobs.

This text is also part of the series "Faces" in which Constructor University introduces students, alumni, professors, and employees. More exciting stories can be found at