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Sustainable ideas

Dare to shape the future

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If we really want to do something to counter climate change, we will require creativity, persistence and courage. These are also qualities required by entrepreneurs. Let us tell you the stories of some people who know what it takes.

When I was 14, I took a career quiz that revealed I had the potential to become an entrepreneur. That was my mental lifeline!

Fynn von Kutzschenbach, Entrepreneur

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At the age of 16, Fynn von Kutzschenbach had a high school diploma and an unfinished apprenticeship as a marketing clerk. At first glance, his CV was far from perfect, but Fynn had something much more important: courage and a network of contacts. “When I was 14, I took a career quiz that revealed I had the potential to become an entrepreneur. That was my mental lifeline!”

After he went to court to secure the legal capacity to start a business as a minor, he started to plan his own marketing agency. And his company has now been operating officially since February 2021. The decision to go to court as a teenager for the right to found his own company made the headlines up and down the country. The media attention he received in the beginning helped him secure his first contracts and develop long-term customer relationships. His journey was an extraordinary and unusual one, but it was successful for precisely this reason. As part of Gen Z, Fynn understands the needs of young people very well. This is why environmental protection and social sustainability often play a role in his work and he selects his customers very carefully.

Fynn did not have any seed capital: his business was based on the reports about him and the network of contacts that he had developed. “I had some e-mail addresses and simply wrote “Hey, I would like to become self-employed. Do you have time for a coffee or a hot chocolate so that we can have a chat and exchange ideas?” I dread to think how many spelling mistakes those e-mails contained. But in the end that’s irrelevant because the main thing is to have the courage to take this step in the first place.”

Things sometimes happen by chance

Something that many newly founded companies have in common is that they aren’t created by one person on their own but through an exchange of ideas with others. And these encounters sometimes happen by chance: Sergey Brin was a student at Stanford University. In summer 1995, he met Larry Page on a tour of the campus, who wanted to talk to him about urban planning. Brin’s first impression was that he was loud and opinionated. He reluctantly let himself get drawn into a conversation. But when they were both studying at the computer science faculty at Stanford, they discovered that they had a common interest in analyzing the world wide web. Their conversations became more frequent and a year later they launched a search engine onto the market called Google that has changed our everyday lives.

This is an extraordinary example but also not a rare one. Many entrepreneurs meet each other at college or university. It also demonstrates that start-ups and their business ideas are often seeking to provide answers to the problems of the time. They carry out pioneering work – even when it comes to finding solutions to major issues related to the climate and sustainability. Year-on-year comparisons show that an increasing number of start-ups in Germany generate added value by focusing on ecological sustainability and social issues. Digitalization is also a powerful lever for young entrepreneurs, their ideas and new business models.

Everything that we do is based on ecological sustainability. It is a basic requirement.

Jürgen Stein, Chief Innovation Officer EnBW

An in-house think tank

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Climate protection also plays a role in all new business models at EnBW. Jürgen Stein, Chief Innovation Officer, explains: “Everything that we do is based on ecological sustainability. It is a basic requirement.” Under the umbrella of EnBW Innovation, the Group has been developing new business models in partnership with committed company founders, investors and employees since 2014. One start-up that was founded in 2021 is Switchboard. Its focus is the digitalization of the energy sector and making it easier to produce and also use electricity from renewable energies. The products are IT interfaces (so-called APIs) which can be used to integrate existing data into the customer’s own IT infrastructure. An example: A person who owns a photovoltaic power plant can receive a forecast for the expected amount of generated electricity after entering their postal code and the orientation, inclination and capacity of their system. Switchboard is the first platform to offer suitable APIs in ready-to-use bundles to companies in the energy sector and adjacent industries.

What is an API?

APIs simplify the transfer of data between different systems billions of times per day and act as access points for connecting companies with customers, service providers and employees. They optimize organizational processes and ensure, amongst other things, better process efficiency and shorter response times. Here is an analogy for how APIs can be used in an IT structure: If you build something with Lego, you don’t have to cut the components to size yourself. You simply chose the right brick, it fits perfectly into the existing structure and you can make progress more quickly.

We focus on energy-related themes and that means we have an indirect influence on the Energiewende. This sense of purpose gives me a huge amount of motivation.

Estefania Hofmann, Entrepreneur

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Estefania Hofmann is the founder and freshly appointed Managing Director of the start-up. She feels very comfortable in her new role. “The most satisfying feeling up to now was being able to inspire developers about the idea and then being able to recruit them. That was a special moment.” Founding a company comes with a lot of responsibility but also gives her a lot of freedom. “I come from a computer science background and find it exciting to work in the energy sector. We develop software or an IT product and in this respect we are no different than Netflix or Amazon. But we focus on energy-related themes and that means we have an indirect influence on the Energiewende and renewable energies. This sense of purpose gives me a huge amount of motivation.” Estefania Hofmann carries out these important tasks together with her team and co-founder Nico Bovelette.

As Head of EnBW Innovation, Jürgen Stein is proud of the freshly founded company: “It is fantastic when you can witness the process at first hand and accompany young people in the development of their idea.” As Fynn’s story and the creation of Switchboard and Google demonstrate, networks are fundamentally important for start-ups. Innovation is teamwork and Jürgen Stein knows why: “All new themes are extremely complex and no one can know everything. It is important to seek out the opinions of competent people at just the right time when you are trying to resolve a particular issue. This could be just a new idea, new impetus or more substantial support. It is simply impossible to do it all on your own.”

Alongside a network, it is also vital to find the right environment and have the right mindset. “To create something, you need a culture in which courage is embraced. A culture where things are allowed to go wrong although you have given everything, persevered and fought to the very end. And you need people who have the right knowledge and entrepreneurial skills. People who also sometimes work in gray zones but feel happy doing it,” Jürgen Stein adds.

He has one very important message: “Stay brave and don’t give up easily. Keep going even if things don’t work out immediately. Perseverance will pay off in the end.”

How do start-ups and a large corporation fit together?

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Large corporations and start-ups belong to two different worlds. They have to respect each other’s logic if it is to work. The key lies in finding the right degree of closeness and distance from one another. On the one hand, it is helpful for the innovation department and its start-ups to be able to utilize the Group’s knowledge and resources, while on the other hand, the start-up needs to keep its distance from the rules and processes in the Group so that it is freer to develop in an optimal way. A significant difference is, for example, the willingness to take risks: a large corporation shouldn’t take any excessive risks, but a start-up has to embrace risk in most cases in order to create something new. Another major difference is the decision-making process: large corporations are sometimes driven by consensus. In an innovation context, it is not advisable to try and find consensus or make compromises too early because that will often hinder the path to finding the perfect solution. Innovation has a lot to do with clarity and contradiction. It is important to tolerate and also value these differences in everyday working life.

According to a study conducted by the German Startup Monitor, around two thirds (73.1%) of all German start-ups are currently in an early innovation phase. Around 30% of these young entrepreneurial teams fail within just three years – often because they cannot find a profitable business model for their idea. “The earlier we accompany and support these teams, the bigger their chance of success – which is ultimately beneficial for all involved. The team themselves, us as a partner and also society in the form of new products and new jobs,” explains Jürgen Stein, Head of Innovation at EnBW. This is why we offer EnBW start-up grants. Students and prospective entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to work on their business idea together with EnBW to develop a viable business model ready for investment. You can apply here by submitting a compelling pitch deck including a description of your team and business model:

Innovation management at EnBW
Step 1

It doesn’t start with an idea. Innovation management begins with a problem. For example: There are scooters lying on the ground on almost every street corner in our cities and most people are annoyed about it. The starting point is: How can we solve this problem?

Step 2

The next step is to look for a solution to the problem and try it out on lots of people. Let’s stay with our example. We can ask whether this solution helps you as someone who uses the sidewalk? We can knock on the doors of the companies renting out the scooters and ask them whether our idea would be useful to them. If the response is positive, it is clear that we have achieved a problem-product fit.

Step 3

Finally, it is time to examine the market and see if anyone is willing to pay for the solution. If this is the case, we know that we are on the right track. Once you have found one set of customers who are willing to pay for the product, the next step is growth. It is important for the figures to grow month by month. This will prove that the business model is viable and that a spin-off company can be founded one day.

What is your opinion on sustainable themes? We have a few questions and look forward to your answers.

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