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Gateway Incubator


Gateway features an incubator for knowledge-based, innovative business ideas with scaling potential.

Services we offer

We help you, founders in the early pre-start-up phase, develop your idea into a well-founded business model with the Gateway Incubator. Our program conveys practical knowledge on all start-up-relevant topics. We also introduce you to the start-up ecosystem in Cologne.

The program offers workshops, trainings, social events, coaching, expert advice, workplaces, and a lot of start-up community for you.


The standard 4-month incubator takes place twice a year. We start with a batch in April and another in October. Every week there are 1-2 appointments, mostly on Tuesdays. As much as possible, you should be able to keep Tuesday morning free. The next Incubator will start October 2024.

For whom the Gateway Incubator is ideal

You can apply as an individual founder or as a group. The requirement is that you are committed to working on the further development of your business idea for several months. You should have a knowledge-based, innovative business idea with scalability and be able to clearly identify your problem-solution fit.

The Gateway Incubator is designed for students, employees, and graduates of universities with a Gateway start-up service (up to five years after graduation). In addition to the University of Cologne, these are the TH Köln, the RFH Köln, the Deutsche Sporthochschule, and the CBS International Business School.


Start-ups in the early pre-start-up phase benefit from numerous advantages at the Gateway Incubator:

  • Learning: Through workshops, trainings and expert consultations, you will expand your skills and knowledge in all start-up-relevant topics.
  • Coaching and mentoring: Your team will be assigned a start-up coach for individual support and an experienced founder as a buddy.
  • Community: Become part of our gateway community, where you can support each other and learn from each other's experiences.
  • Network building: We put you in contact with other start-ups and other players from the Cologne ecosystem - e.g. potential customers, advisors and investors.
  • Resources: If required, your team can use workspace in the Gateway Workspace and access software tools from company cooperations.
  • Free of charge: Participation in the Gateway Incubator is free of charge.

Program content

  • Workshops & seminars: Business model, project management, property rights, market and competition analysis, marketing, branding, sales, prototyping, communication, financing, pitching, team, leadership, resilience.
  • Check-in days: Regular meetings with the other teams to follow up on topics and exchange ideas.
  • Expert consultations: Once a month on demand with experts in law, IP, insurance, social media, financing, etc. ("Residence Programme").
  • Coachings: Regular appointments with your start-up coach for individual support and to define and regularly evaluate your goals.
  • Social events: 1 x month to hang out with other start-ups from the incubator and the Gateway Workspace over a drink and snacks ("Sundowner").
  • Ecosystem: 1 x month Startup Jour Fix as well as 1 visit to a startup in Cologne and 1 final event with public pitch
Participating in the incubator, our startup benefited from its breadth of essential content: idea development, financing, marketing, and project management, enriched with invaluable expert insights.
Flora, helpify
Community Building
For a successful start-up you need so many different expertises. So it's all the nicer to be in an incubator where you support each other on an equal footing with expertise and network. Awesome!!
Daniel, heygrün
Female Empowerment & Soft Skills
The incubator united us as a team, fostering resilience and female leadership. We felt supported by coaches, gaining valuable experiences and making great contacts!
Anna, Jonna und Lisa, oh circle

Application requirements

Requirements for the business idea's stage of development:

1. The value proposition canvas demonstrates the team's problem-solution fit.
2. The team is capable of explaining its business concept in a clear and convincing manner (Pitch Deck and Pitch).
3. The team has the skills to put the idea into practice or is aware that some expertise is still needed and is looking for the right team members.

Exclusion criteria based on the stage of a business idea's development:

  1. A limited liability company has not yet been established for the business.
  2. At the time of its application to the incubator, the team hadn't yet submitted an application for the EXIST start-up grant or the EXIST research transfer.
  3. While a prototype for internal testing is perfectly acceptable, a minimum Viable Product (MVP) should not yet exist.
  4. There may not yet have been any turnovers.
  5. The team has not yet received VC funding.

Formal requirements:

  1. A knowledge-based, innovative, and scalable business idea
  2. The team includes at least one member who is affiliated with the University of Cologne, TH Köln, RFH Köln, DSHS, or CBS.
  3. You are committed to working diligently on your startup for 4 months (5-8 hours per week of incubator program plus follow-up work).
  4. Submit your application by 31.8.2023, ideally earlier!


All applications received by the deadline will be reviewed and evaluated by a jury.

The criteria are:

  1. Team: Diversity, competence, motivation
  2. Business idea: clear value proposition, innovation, scalability
  3. Business model: approach to monetisation, SDG consideration.

The best applicants (teams) are invited to pitch.

A maximum of ten teams will be accepted. The other teams will be rejected.

Important dates

  • 01. - 31.8.2023: Application phase
  • 13. - 20..9.2023: Pitches
  • 25. - 27.9..2023: Acceptance / rejection
  • 04. - 13..10.2023: Programme onboarding
  • 18.10.2023: Kick-Off
  • 24.10.: Programme start
  • February 2024: Final event with pitch


I have a start-up idea, but no team yet. Can I also participate in the program by myself?

Start-ups that are founded by more than one person are significantly more successful. If you are still alone, but have the definite goal of finding more co-founders, you can always participate in the Gateway Incubator.
Finding co-founders will then be a goal in your target agreement with your personal start-up coach.

Where do the workshops and other events take place?

The workshops, social events and visits to the start-up ecosystem take place in Cologne. Seminars, expert consultations and coaching sessions take place partly online.

Do we have to live in Cologne?

No, you do not have to live in Cologne. But you must be willing to spend one day in Cologne on a regular basis, sometimes weekly, in order to participate in the face-to-face events.

Our startup idea is from XY field, can we apply?

The Gateway Incubator is open to start-up ideas from all fields and industries, as long as they are knowledge-based, innovative and show scaling potential.

Does participation in the Incubator cost anything?

No, participation is free for all team members. However, you are required to attend 80% of the mandatory meetings.

Failure to comply with the participation agreement may result in exclusion.

Do all members of the team have to study or have studied at one of the universities of the Gateway network?

No, it is sufficient if the connection to a university with a Gateway start-up service (University of Cologne, TH Köln, RFH Köln, German Sport University Cologne and CBS International Business School) is established via a person in the team.

What happens after the Gateway Incubator?

At the end of the incubator, at best you will have achieved the goals you set yourself at the beginning together with your start-up coach.

After the incubator, things can continue differently for your team. For example, you could apply for a start-up grant afterwards or/and continue to use the workstations in the Gateway Workspace and be part of the start-up community.

We are interested in the Gateway Incubator but are not ready or do not have time now and would like to apply in the next round. What can we do?

Great, we're glad to hear that. You can self-study with the Strategic Business Tool Kit in the meantime and then apply in the next round. The application periods are always in February and August.

We have already founded a company. Can we still participate in the incubator?

Unfortunately, if you have already founded a corporation, you cannot participate.

If you have only founded a sole proprietorship or a partnership so far, participation is still possible.

I have more questions; who should I contact?

Feel free to send us an e-mail to: inkubator@gateway-unikoeln.de

Get in touch

Vivien Borbély

Referentin für Evaluationen & Reportings

Evelyn Berresheim-Christ, Dipl.-Kff.

Start-up Coach