SMILE was set up by Leipzig University to help start-ups. Since 2006, SMILE has been providing free support to students, alumni, doctoral researchers and employees on their way to becoming self-employed. An interdisciplinary initiative, SMILE cooperates with a variety of universities and offers customised services from different areas. SMILE thus offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to discover, use and expand their potential and their skills.

Starting a business with SMILE

The Self Management Initiative Leipzig (SMILE) was established in 2006 and is a joint project of Leipzig University, the HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ). The initiative is funded by the European Union, the Free State of Saxony and the participating institutions, as well as the Leipzig Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer.

SMILE offers founders a comprehensive range of services: on their way to self-employment, the start-up network accompanies them from the initial idea to its realisation.

The SMILE modules

SMILE.start supports the start of entrepreneurial independence. This is where start-up founders, business people, artists or freelancers receive the necessary tools for professional and personal qualification and development.

Just how good is an idea? What do potential customers think about a new service or product? With the help of modern market research methods, SMILE provides answers to these questions. SMILE.markttest also supports the process of designing prototypes of products or services. Existing data is reviewed and analysed.

Freelancers have to deal with unique entrepreneurial challenges. The SMILE.freiberufler module prepares them in the best possible way for their start in the world of business.

SMILE.medibiz supports young companies in the healthcare, biotechnology and e-health sectors as they pass through the early growth phase. SMILE.medibiz is funded by the Leipzig Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer.

Women start businesses differently! As part of a scholarship programme, SMILE team members can address the particular challenges faced by female start-up teams.

From theory to practice: SMILE prepares founders for the real world and teaches them how to turn knowledge into skills. In one-on-one and group workshops they learn how to present themselves and convince others of their idea.

SMILE in numbers



Strichzeichnung: ein Gebäude mit vier senkrechten Strichen, die auf einem waagerechten Strich stehen und darüber sind zwei schräge Striche als Dach angeordnet.


start-ups supported


jobs created

33 million

funds raised


prizes won


workshops per semester

A Selection of Succesful Start-Ups

SMILE has already helped launch more than 470 businesses. Here are a few examples.

enlarge the image: The three founders of Webdata Solutions GmbH
Photo: Webdata Solutions GmbH

The software service provider Webdata Solutions supports its customers in optimising profit margins and using resources efficiently. The company’s services include software-based solutions for market and product range analysis, price monitoring and price management. Among the company’s customers are well-known online shops and leading brands. In addition, the company cooperates with a number of technology and distribution partners. The two co-founders and former employees of Leipzig University, Sabine Maßmann and Dr Hanna Köpcke, today are part of the company’s management team. In the early phase, the start-up received financial support from the TGFS (Technologiegründerfonds Sachsen). Today, Webdata Solutions has about 15 employees.

SMILE’s expert network helped us tremendously in many stages of founding the business.

enlarge the image: Photo: a man in a black t-shirt is sitting in a studio in front of a mixing console
With the help of SMILE Christian Bollert founded the internet radio station Photo: Christian Hüller

The online radio station, operated by BEBE Medien GmbH, offers an online radio programme with news items on politics, business and culture as well as modern pop music. is also a service provider for podcasts and audio productions. The radio station is aimed at young people, mostly academics, throughout Germany, especially in large and university cities. Before founding the station in 2009, the founders worked with SMILE to develop a business plan. The co-founder and current managing director Christian Bollert is, like many other employees of, an alumnus of Leipzig University.

Since its foundation in 2009, BEBE Medien GmbH and its radio station have received numerous awards, including the German Radio Prize (2012), the European Podcast Award (2012), the Ernst Schneider Prize (2017) and three nominations for the Grimme Online Award (2011, 2013, 2017). Moreover, is the audio partner of many newspapers and organisations, such as Süddeutsche Zeitung, Zeit Online, taz, Politico Europe, the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO).

When preparing to found the company, SMILE helped us a lot with bringing our ideas together into a business plan. Discussing and analysing our business idea was particularly beneficial.

enlarge the image: Employees of the effigos AG
Photo: effigos AG

Effigos AG specialises in the visualisation of complex information from the life sciences. For this purpose, the company creates highly detailed 3D graphics and interactive applications all the way down to the cellular level. Effigos AG'’s digital models are used in educational institutions, science, the press and industry and commerce. The current chairman of the board, Dr Jens Grosche, and former biologists and bioinformatics researchers from Leipzig University are members of the founding team. In the early phase of the company’s foundation, the firm was supported by the Leipzig Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) and the Saxon Development Bank (SAB) as part of the programmes “Wirtschaft trifft Wissenschaft” (Business Meets Science) and “Gemeinschaftsaufgabe Verbesserung der regionalen Wirtschaftsstruktur - GRW” (a joint initiative for the improvement of regional economic structures).

With SMILE we had a reliable partner at our side, who provided orientation and protection for the first autonomous steps. In addition to important know-how on setting up a company, the time spent at LEO was a valuable support for us.

You may also like

Industry Partnerships

Read more

Inventions and patents

Read more

Events and media

Read more