An interview with Steinbeis consultant Rita Strassburg
To take the plunge or not – and become self-employed: What does it take to launch a successful company? And what kind of personality makes a good business founder? Steinbeis consultant Rita Strassburg offers advice to enterpreneurs grappling with these issues in the region around Constance. TRANSFER magazine caught up with her to talk about startups in times of the pandemic and the importance of business ecosystems to the success of a startup.
Hello Ms. Strassburg. One of the services you offer is startup consulting. What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on the startup landscape in Germany, including in the county of Constance?
Looking at the picture as a whole across Germany, the number of new startups fell in the first year of coronavirus in 2020. According to the startup monitor, those startups were of a particularly high standard, however. The reason for this is that the people who set up companies were more likely to have a specific idea of their startups and then went about implementing their ideas as intended. Although there are no reliable figures for 2021 yet, it does appear that the number of small startups has continued to decline, while the number of larger firms or firms set up as a sideline has risen.
In the county of Constance, generally the number of startups appears to have remained stable. This also matches the overall statistics for Baden-Wuerttemberg, which show that the state seems to be particularly strong and active when it comes to startups.
How important is it to become an integral part of the local ecosystem in the Constance region for startups or business owners to succeed?
When founders start setting up a business – so they have an idea, and they’re looking into ways to set up a company – they have a prodigious thirst for advice and information. Business ecosystems are most useful to founders if the supporting stakeholders and organizations work well together – educational establishments, funding bodes, companies, investors, and political institutions. The ecosystem in and around Constance is in a good position to help startups. For example, the TZK – the technology center in Constance – has been helping business founders and new companies for over 35 years, also under its new umbrella brand for startups: Farm. Farm is a center for startups and among other things it provides them with their first roof over their heads by offering reduced rent. It’s also a place for the network of startups to meet up, which includes all associations and institutions relevant to startups, such as the economic development agency, Steinbeis, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the Chamber of Crafts, Km1, etc. The network meets up regularly, approximately every four to six weeks, and shares information and ideas on current issues. What’s important right now? What are the next steps? And of course Constance is home to a whole host of consulting services, or events such as the Impulse series and hackathons, which – among others – are staged by Bio-LAGO and cyberLAGO. This all provides business founders with an opportunity to move forward with their business models and ideas. The startup ecosystem functions really well in Constance, although of course we’re all doing our best to create more synergies by building and expanding on our support for startups.
What services do you offer as a Steinbeis consultant to help people on their journey into entrepreneurship?
I always start on a personal level. The first thing is to get to know each other. I care very much about business founders, so it makes me really happy to lay a certain foundation for their projects, to support them on a professional and emotional level, and that I, too, can keep my finger on the pulse when it comes to the development of a business.
Once we’ve gotten to know each other, the aim is to find out more about the startup concept and determine which startup phase the business founder is currently at. It’s only once I’ve done that, that I can support the business founder with actual services and information. If they’re right at the beginning of the process, we start by reviewing the business concept and making it more concrete. If they’re further down the line, I help them work up the business model. In addition to that, I offer them ways to develop marketing and sales concepts, or draft business plans and prepare a financial plan for the first years – including an investment plan, a revenue plan, and a liquidity plan.
Of course financial issues are really important. I help to clear up any initial funding questions, I help with discussions with the bank, and I point out the funding options. Depending on how much detailed advice they need in individual areas, other consultants come into play, specialized in topics such as funding or acquisitions. In such circumstances I like to turn to the Steinbeis Network, because it offers access to a whole host of experts across different types of areas. The topics I can offer in-depth advice on are business model development and marketing.
Are there any startup ideas you’ve been particularly impressed by?
There are so many interesting projects, it’s difficult to say. Off the top of my head, the first one would be the ELENA app, because it might help solve a major social problem. It’s an app that combats loneliness among the elderly. Its goal is to use totally simple digital technology to create a fully accessible solution for senior citizens to communicate with relatives. Basically, it’s like a little virtual visit. And I think it’s really great. Another project is a sensor made by Spinnax for skateboarding. It allows skateboarders to record their movements and then use the recordings for training and making improvements. Or the Paopao project, which is all about natural products for women, at all stages of life. But that’s just three ideas that come to mind spontaneously, out of many other great projects.
Based on your experience, what qualities and skills does a business founder need to make a success of their undertaking?
I think it definitely takes entrepreneurial spirit. And as a startup, you should definitely be strong-willed and believe in your idea. But that has to be combined with a willingness to consider the overall business environment consciously and objectively. And another thing I find important is that you’re open to advice – after all, you can’t know everything about everything. But on the other hand, it’s also important to be able to make distinctions between the advice you’re given. With a startup, it’s a fine balancing act between “having a vision” and “understanding and exploiting the options you have and the overall setup.” Admittedly, it’s not an easy balancing act, but it’s crucial if a startup’s going to succeed.
I also think the qualities of a business founder include a certain degree of tenaciousness, commitment, a willingness to take risks, the ability to work under pressure, and resilience. They should be knowledgeable in the field they’re setting up the company in and have the right professional qualifications – but they should also be creative. And one thing you mustn’t forget is a sense of responsibility – toward yourself and others.
I think it’s important to adopt a positive attitude toward your startup, to have an open mind, and to be permanently open to change. All the things that you expect will probably happen at the beginning – they don’t always happen. So often you have to change your model. And there’s one thing that’s particularly important: It also takes courage – you can’t afford to be too scared about things.
WHAT THE BUSINESS FOUNDERS SAY:
“When you start up a business, you stand there with tons of questions. So it’s a tremendous help to get advice that’s tailored to you as an individual, for example through the EXI Startup Vouchers. It was particularly useful to get support on a robust business plan, but also get help from the Steinbeis consultant’s network in Constance. This has already led to a lot of contacts and opportunities for future partnerships. As a new company, of course funding will remain important to me.”
Giovanna Ratini | Proximo-WSD UG | www.elena-app.de
ELENA is an accessible app aimed at combating loneliness among senior citizens, who are often less familiar with digital media. The app offers elderly people an opportunity to communicate directly with their loved ones and caregivers.
“As a new startup, we’re extremely satisfied with our collaboration with Steinbeis. We received highly professional support during the different phases of the company – from two consultants, who not only approached things from a different angle, but were also a good complement to one another and worked together well. That had a significant impact on accelerating the startup process for us and it enabled us to avoid quite a number of mistakes. What else would we wish for? It would be nice to have funding options for startups – so we can pick up even more momentum on the highway.”
Marco and Isabel Bertiller | Spinnax GmbH & Co. KG | www.spinnax.com
Spinnax produces sensors for skateboarders that detect the movements of skateboards. These also come with an app for skaters to watch and share recordings.
Rita Strassburg (interviewee)
Steinbeis Transfer Center Technology – Organization – Human Resources (TOP) (Ravensburg)