Participants at the Young Founders pitch in Leipzig in 2018 with German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his wife, Elke Büdenbender (© Jugend gründet)


Steinbeis experts from Pforzheim turn the spotlight on change, people, and sustainable target-setting

Business is going well. The numbers look good. So who needs business development? The answer sounds simple: So the company can adapt and develop according to market requirements. But what’s the best way to achieve that? And what can firms do to successfully shape transformation themselves? These where the questions examined by Prof. Dr. Elke Theobald and Prof. Dr. Barbara Burkhardt-Reich, directors of the Steinbeis Enterprises for Business Development at the University of Pforzheim.

The experts at the two Steinbeis Enterprises posed three hypotheses, which were used as a point of orientation for implementing their projects.

  • Changes dictate everyday work and success at a business enterprise: If you fail to move forward, you fall behind compared to the competition. Stand still and at some point the company at the rear of the field overtakes you
  • The success of a company depends on every individual worker. People are the key success factors of a company and are thus central to the success of the business during every phase of company development. People also dictate whether entrepreneurial spirit, required for a business to develop, can be unfurled within the company.
  • We can shape the future: If you want to shape the future and see a company develop positively, you need long-term, sustainable goals. But individuals have a limited influence on shaping the future. Which is why it’s all the more important to understand where, when, and in what way it really is possible to leave one’s mark – both on society and in terms of business success.

These concepts form the basis of the work carried out by these two Steinbeis Enterprises and their approach toward sustainable business development in fostering up-and-coming talent (entrepreneurship education), analyzing markets and the competition (management monitor), and developing the world of work and corporate cultures to embrace more diversity within modern companies (women’s careers).


The intention of the entrepreneurship education projects offered by the Steinbeis experts is to foster an understanding among adolescents for the topics of entrepreneurship, innovation, and business startups. A nationwide project and a state-level project involving high-school students are flagship examples of this. “We’re designing and organizing an online idea, business plan, and business simulation contest across the whole of Germany as part of the ‘Young Founders’ initiative. It’s combined with a freely accessible, free education platform. The contest has been backed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research since 2003 and is recommended by the assembly of ministers of education of the German states,” explains Barbara Burkhardt-Reich. The Young Founders initiative allows young people to discover how they can become active influencers in our society themselves. Over the period of half a school year, they are invited to come up with new and innovative solutions to the challenges of modern times and the world of tomorrow. The first stage is less about actually implementing their ideas and more about expanding horizons. Students are encouraged to conduct research, with no holds barred, and then structure and formulate their results with a specific goal in mind, in keeping with a business plan template. The second stage of the online program consists of a business simulation that allows participants to gain a sense of what it is like to be an entrepreneur. It spans eight phases of commerce, during which the students have to launch their startups in the face of competition and set up a sustainable, successful, and socially responsible company. This is because the only way to create something tangible out of a creative idea or fun innovation is to merge strategic thinking and planning skills. At the end of the journey, numerous prizes are up for grabs, all of which aim to help the young competitors continue developing their ideas. The winning team is invited to a guided tour of Silicon Valley, including exclusive peeks behind the glamorous scenes of the local startup scene. Young Founders promotes teamwork and provides insights into the networks formed by key business stakeholders, sensitizing people to the interdependencies and impacts of entrepreneurial decisions, and motivating them to think in agile terms, research things independently, and work up creative ideas. So in a nutshell, the competition trains students in entrepreneurial soft skills.

Similar objectives, only with a significantly shorter schedule and with a focus on Baden-Wuerttemberg, are being pursued by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Housing, which is sponsoring a project called Start-up BW Young Talents. The initiative comprises two independent modules offered through the public school system and organized by the Steinbeis experts in Pforzheim. The first, Start-up BW@School, invites young entrepreneurs to the classroom to offer students the chance to hear about the world of startups at first hand. Then there is an Innovation Workshop & Pitch initiative to allow high school students to soak up the startup culture at a one-day workshop. The students are guided by the Steinbeis experts through the first phases of a company startup, from identifying ideas using creative techniques to a pitch in front of an external jury against an educational backdrop. The winners of the school pitch then have the opportunity to take part in the Start-up BW Young Talents initiative.


Women are still unrepresented in senior management. Some journalists even talk about a “rollback” in equality. “We’re absolutely convinced that diversity can be a success factor for companies, which is why we’ve taken on the topic of women’s careers,” says Elke Theobald. Since 2011, the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labor, and Housing has been channeling funds from the European Social Fund and the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg into a project called Women’s Careers in Baden-Wuerttemberg Companies (shortened to Spitzenfrauen-BW).

The job of Elke Theobald and Barbara Burkhardt-Reich and their team is to set the agenda and organize activities for the project. The overarching aim of the project is to boost the share of women in management positions at Baden-Wuerttemberg companies by leveraging the website as a central forum for women seeking to advance their careers, as well as by leveraging support from the Spitzenfrauen-BW network. The website features 120 profiles of women in leading positions, highlighting the diversity of women’s careers in Baden-Wuerttemberg. By providing a role model, they encourage other women to aim high in their own careers and develop the skills required to climb the career ladder. The Women at the Top (Spitzenfrauen-BW) community allows members to exchange ideas across different sectors of industry and gain regular insights into exciting companies in Baden-Wuerttemberg. It also offers mentoring to women with strong potential and lines up support, advice, and funding for individual career planning.

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To meet market requirements, you need to understand the market. Business development thus always involves a comprehensive analysis of the market, trends, and competitors. The Management Monitor is an award-winning marketing intelligence solution developed by Steinbeis experts to make competitive and marketing information available across entire companies and give businesses the collaborative tools they need to engage in corporate development together. It features a competitive radar pulling together domestic, international, internal, and external marketing information, analyzing competitor profiles and campaigns, assessing marketing initiatives, and thus providing a basis for informed decision-making as a key part of corporate development. Combining this information with observations of competitive websites and industry portals can provide a comprehensive overview of market trends and thus avoid being “caught unawares” by the competition.


For more information on the individual projects organized by the Steinbeis business development experts in Pforzheim, go to:


Prof. Dr. Elke Theobald (author)
Steinbeis Transfer Center: Business Development, Pforzheim University and
Steinbeis Innovation Center: Business Development, Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)

Prof. Dr. Barbara Burkhardt-Reich (author)
Steinbeis Transfer Center: Business Development, Pforzheim University and
Steinbeis Innovation Center: Business Development, Pforzheim University (Pforzheim)