Bram Wijlands becomes second managing director of Max Planck Innovation

MPG strengthens spin-off area with independent management

October 05, 2023

In recent years, the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, together with Max Planck Innovation, has increasingly launched activities to further promote entrepreneurship at the Max Planck Institutes. On October 1, 2023 Bram Wijlands became second managing director of Max Planck Innovation and takes over the management of the Spin-off business unit to further develop existing and newly developed approaches and partnerships to promote spin-offs.

Bram Wijlands will take over the Max Planck Innovation company management as second managing director together with Jörn Erselius. Mr Wijlands will be responsible for the management and strategic direction of the Spin-off business unit. Mr Erselius, who has led Max Planck Innovation as sole managing director since 2006, will continue to head the Patents & Licensing and Commercialisation business unit.

In future, Bram Wijlands is to further promote the role of start-ups in the Max Planck innovation system. "Supporting Max Planck researchers who also want to become active in the entrepreneurial environment with their excellent research results is a real privilege for someone who works passionately at the interface between research and innovation. I am therefore very pleased to now be working with Jörn Erselius, Ulrich Mahr and the entire Max Planck Innovation team to ensure that the Max Planck Society, with its groundbreaking research, will also produce more and more groundbreaking start-ups for the benefit of our society," says Bram Wijlands, co-managing director of Max Planck Innovation.

Mr Wijlands brings extensive experience in technology transfer to this role. For example, he worked for 17 years in the areas of transfer and entrepreneurship at Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH Aachen for short), where he drove forward the development of innovation scouting and a key account model with well-known companies such as BMW, Siemens and Total Energies in the deep-tech sector, among other things. He was also jointly responsible for the structured development of new start-up programmes, including the Excellence Start-Up Centre. Most recently, he held the position of managing director of RWTH Innovation GmbH, the technology transfer organisation of RWTH Aachen, for 5 years. Bram Wijlands' professional profile is rounded off by his own entrepreneurial activities in the field of innovation and entrepreneurship at various other research institutions such as KU Leuven (Catholic University of Leuven) and its technology transfer institution KU Leuven Research & Development, where he initiated the development of a new exploitation approach for regenerative medicine.

In order to stimulate more entrepreneurship at the institutes, the Max Planck Society launched the "MAXpreneurs" initiative in 2021, in which the Max Planck Foundation and the Planck Academy are also involved alongside MI. In addition to strengthening the start-up culture, the focus is on identifying as many start-up projects as possible. A central element here is the start-up incubation programme MAX!mize, which is overseen by Max Planck Innovation. Here, in addition to proven intensive and individual support for their start-up project from the Start-up & Portfolio Managers, Max Planck researchers receive a structured range of regular events consisting of workshops, training courses and networking opportunities. This synergistic support enables aspiring "MAXpreneurs" to optimally lead their business idea to foundation. With the appointment of Bram Wijlands as the second managing director and the establishment of the independent business unit, the spin-offs area within Max Planck Innovation and the Max Planck Society will be further expanded and strengthened. Max Planck Innovation would like to thank Ulrich Mahr, who has successfully promoted and been responsible for the development of the spin-off area since 1998, for his many years of great commitment. For private reasons, Mr Mahr will in future focus on the management of the Start-up & Portfolio Management sub-division at Max Planck Innovation.

"The Max Planck Society has set an important milestone for the future growth and success of its start-up activities with the strategic decision to expand the spin-offs area and also to strengthen the management level in this area. We are delighted to have now found an ideal addition to the leadership team at Max Planck Innovation in Bram Wijlands, with his impressive track record, extensive experience in technology transfer and entrepreneurship and strategic mindset. As shareholders, we are convinced that Bram Wijlands is the right person to lead Max Planck Innovation into the next phase and to jointly achieve the strategic goals of the Max Planck Society in technology transfer," says Simone Schwanitz, Secretary General of the Max Planck Society.

"We are very pleased to welcome Bram Wijlands as a highly experienced technology transfer expert to our team. We are convinced that he is a perfect fit for the Max Planck Innovation team, not only because of his outstanding qualifications and extensive experience, but also because of his personality," says Jörn Erselius from Max Planck Innovation.

The role of start-ups in the MPG

Inventions made at the MPIs in the course of research often also have great economic potential. In addition to the licensing of IP-protected inventions, start-ups also play a major role in bringing these inventions to the market and thus to customers and patients in the form of, for example, medical or technical products and services. Since the 1990s, for example, around 185 companies have been spun off from the MPG, providing important impulses for the economy worldwide, including seven listed companies with a market capitalisation of several billion euros.

One example of a particularly successful spin-off is the company Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. The company has already launched Onpattro, Givlaari, Oxlumo and Amvuttra, four drugs for the treatment of various diseases, based on technology discovered at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. The technology of so-called RNA interference (RNAi) is the natural process of gene silencing, with the help of which disease-relevant genes can be specifically switched off.

Another example is Meshcapade. The tech company was founded in 2018 out of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen and won the Max Planck Start-up Award of the Stifterverband in 2022. Meshcapade creates accurate and realistic 3D avatars based on the newly developed SMPL technology using a variety of data sources such as images, sensor-based devices and body measurements. The avatars have facial expressions, can reproduce subtle gestures as well as realistic movements and are compatible with all common 3D visualisation programs. The technology is expected to find its way into the fashion, gaming and film industries, but also holds enormous potential in medicine and healthcare, as real, lifelike people can be recreated in 3D.

Further information on MPG spin-offs can be found at

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