In October this year, we had Tobias Rieker, founder of Markt-Pilot and member of Campus Founders, as a guest in our interview series. This is an ideal example of a B2B start-up from the region, which was able to celebrate its first customers as a demonstrated success with medium-sized companies in the region.
Supporting young teams of founders is also the goal of our colleagues at the Founders Foundation in Bielefeld. Their focus is on the development of B2B start-ups in the OWL region with local medium-sized companies.
What unites us? We both believe it takes several complimentary initiatives to promote entrepreneurship in Germany and to ensure the economic success of tomorrow in our home country.
For this interview, we have been able to secure some time with Sebastian Borek, CEO of the Founders Foundation.
Dear Sebastian, could you please explain to us briefly what you yourself do at the Founders Foundation in Bielefeld and what exactly do you intend to achieve as an organisaton?
I am CEO of the Founders Foundation and am building it up together with my co-founder Dominik Gross and a great team in Bielefeld. The Founders Foundation, as the leading cadre training center in the heart of the German middle class, trains the next generation of successful founders and drives the digital future and the development of B2B startup ecosystems in Germany from the OWL region. The special thing about it is that we do not take equity for our services.
The Founders Foundation has been around for over 4 years now, established the Hinterland of Things as a conference, has accompanied many founders on their way and has also (co)-shaped the Ostwestfalen-Lippe region for the future. What are the next goals?
Germany still lags behind in the founding of start-ups compared to international counterparts. Our goal is to create the mindset, the culture and the necessary infrastructure to sustainably increase the affinity for start-ups and to train successful founders and entrepreneurs. This is a major task that will keep us busy for some time to come. We are constantly looking for new ways and approaches to achieve this goal better and, above all, faster.
Why do you think relatively few people have the desire to become “entrepreneurs” & “founders” themselves?
The more comfortable a society is, the less the desire for change. Meanwhile we have a mindset in Germany that makes founding a business a hobby rather than an urgent necessity. Our political system is programmed for security and preservation and not for trial and error and innovation.
But crises are often the drivers for a new era of entrepreneurship, so we have been able to increase the number of people who are interested in our programs in the last few months and think that this is just the beginning. That is what makes it so important that even more organizations like the Founders Foundation are being established throughout Germany. Founders’ talents must be picked up and supported nationwide. With our pilot project in OWL, we want to create a blueprint of how this can be done successfully.
The current “corona crisis” is turning our lives, but also the economy, upside down. Where do you currently see the greatest opportunities and trends for startups?
Corona is accelerating many digital business models, while at the same time weakening other industries, which are coming under increasing pressure. Even though the pandemic-related change presents us with major socio-political challenges, I still see the overall development as positive.
Start-ups play a very important role in shaping this change, because opportunities are available especially to those who recognize the signs of the times, are adaptable and changeable, while also being resilient and offering solutions for the future. Take a look at the billion-dollar takeover of Falschenpost by the Oetker Group. This deal, which was initiated at our Hinterland of Things conference, is a huge inspiration for the whole start-up scene and shows (1) if the business model fits, such deals come about despite or even because of the crisis and (2) you can start up in Münster and sell in Bielefeld. Start-ups do well to take the step into the regional areas. There is gigantic potential in the cooperation with the established middle class.
Nevertheless, “Startup Germany” is lagging behind in international comparison. Where do you see the biggest challenge?
We lost the software race against the USA and China a long time ago. In the field of artificial intelligence, too, the winner is always the one who starts early. But the interface to engineering offers enormous potential. We are still leading in this area, and if we not only build the machines but also make them intelligent, Germany will once again be at the forefront. This is a founders’ Eldorado for start-ups, especially in the digitalization of mechanical engineering, for example robotics. That’s why at the Founders Foundation, we are focusing on this area, with founders along the B2B value chain specifically targeting previously unknown opportunities with enormous market potential.
According to studies and surveys, the German start-up scene is moving towards ‘greentech’ and areas that are purpose driven. Do you notice this in the Founders Foundation in your daily contact with the founders?
Purpose and impact start-ups are currently in vogue because the next generation of entrepreneurs has understood that pure capitalism is no longer enough. Ideas such as the nGmbH, formulated in the recently published book “Das neue Land” by Verena Pausder, provide important ideas for bringing about socio-political changes. The capital that is in circulation must be invested much more sustainably and prudently. Currently, we still rely on the old themes and tried and tested methods in many cases, but this must change immediately. For us, many of the founders are the heroes in the making to save our future.
Is “purpose” in and of itself a business model?
No. But without purpose you can’t build a successful business today.
How important are other comrades-in-arms for you? How important is the region around Heilbronn, for example, and what contribution can the Campus Founders make to our country?
Very important. We are concerned with the connectivity of the whole of Germany, especially the promotion of start-up initiatives in the powerful regions. We are therefore very pleased that there are great initiatives like the Campus Founders. Especially regions where there are already strong companies are a great advantage for start-ups.
Oliver Hanisch came back to Germany especially for the project after 14 years in Silicon Valley. Can the Silicon Valley spirit do our founders good?
It would be great if we could develop the same founding spirit here in Germany as in the Valley. Oliver knows both countries and ecosystems very well and will certainly find a special mix. Each ecosystem needs its own authentic DNA. For the Campus Founders Oliver is a great asset as a versatile start-up expert and I hope he will let the sun shine from California in Heilbronn, too.
Many thanks, dear Sebastian, for the interview. We very much hope to be able to talk to you again personally when the crisis is over. Then we would like to invite you to visit us in Heilbronn 🙂