Young entrepreneurs in times of crisis

Autor: Patrick Weisker
For the participants of the Impact Factory, the Corona pandemic poses additional challenges in an already critical phase. How do the they experience and manage the current situation? An interview with Program Manager Dirk Sander.

Hi, Dirk. How have you been the last few weeks? Were Anthropia gGmbH and all Impact Factory program participants able to master the transition to working from home?

We, the Anthropia team, decided quite early to move to work from home, even before the official restrictions. The necessary digital tools such as Teams, Zoom, Trello or Slack were already so well established that this step was quite easy.

Beyond that, we wanted to offer our participants the same security, especially since some have long travel times by public transport. Digitizing the entire workshop program was of course a big challenge for us. But thanks to some strong program partners we managed to do it within only two weeks. Clemens Brandstetter (macc) was the biggest supporter of this effort. His many years of experience – both in the design of training programs and the digitization of work processes – were crucial for this smooth transition. It is thanks to him that we found an online variant for each “offline tool” of our program, while guaranteeing as much interactivity as possible.

In addition, I can already say that we will stick with this step of digitization and continue to offer parts of the program online in the future. There will still be compulsory events on site, but it will enable us to offer more flexible work in general.

What does a typical workshop day look like for you?
Of course there are different formats, as our teams are at different levels of maturity. Our challenge was to be able to effectively guide both Create- and Scale-Ups on one Meet&Work day at the same time, despite different demands.

As beginners, the create-ups naturally require more input. With the help of the Business Model Canvas method, they initially work out their respective business model under guidance. This step is intended to transform an initial idea into a viable construct.

Meanwhile, the Scale-Ups are also partly working independently: We give them a framework for the workshop day and moderate on the side. By working in the BarCamp format, i.e. an open workshop, they then shape their content independently. Take for example one form of the “Reflecting Teams” method from systemic management. Here, the individual participants formulate a problem or challenge they are currently facing and throw this question into the group. Then all the others discuss how they have dealt with this situation in the past or what they would see as a solution. The questioner disengages from this process – in offline meetings the person usually turns around – and just listens. Everything that the person considers important can then be taken away from the others’ discussion.

But of course, the Scale-Ups cannot always be instructed so vaguely. For example, when it comes to developing sales channels or a marketing strategy, one of our program partners comes into play and supports the teams with sound expertise.

But you must bear in mind: The Start-Ups already have an incredible amount of know-how. One participant recently held a workshop on digital self-organization, as he himself was already an expert in this field. Especially our Fellow teams are often the teachers themselves. With this in mind, we created the Fellows category. In the end, there is always a mixture of creative and community-oriented working methods as well as selective professional input from our network of supporters.

How do the participants react to the changed conditions? Are there difficulties for the young entrepreneurs?

Many start-up founders take a big risk at first – with or without Corona. Especially small and young teams have no income during the qualification phase, so they have to live on savings, part-time jobs or scholarships. Most of them take a very courageous step, as success cannot be guaranteed.

However, the current situation adds even more to this general uncertainty. As in many other areas of life, processes are slowed down or even stopped completely: In their case this includes the acquisition of pilot customers or networking and pitching at public events. In addition, without being founded or shortly thereafter, you will of course basically fall through most official security grids like the KfW loans.

But even those who are already on the market are facing difficult times: The international project “Dialogue in the Dark“, which has been running for over 20 years, is facing insolvency due to Corona. Ironically, it is currently made especially difficult for non-profit social enterprises to obtain financial support (German report on the matter). In the German draft law they were apparently simply forgotten.

But despite all this, things are going well at the Impact Factory. So far, no team has had such serious problems that its existence is endangered.

And what about you as the Anthropia team? Do you get along well with the changed way of working?

One thing in particular has struck me as positive: The greater distance has actually created closeness for us. We communicate flatter and more regularly. On the one hand, a spatial hierarchy between management and team has crept into Villa Anthropia – quite contrary to our philosophy, simply for pragmatic reason of office allocation. This separation has mostly disappeared again through online communication; we literally communicate on a “flatter” level. On the other hand, the same also applies to our supporters from outside. Those who used to work purely conceptually, so to speak “for an undefined Create- or Scale-Up team”, are now getting much closer to our Start-Ups. In many places this has led to a better understanding of each other, of the stories and backgrounds or of the individual needs.

In contrast, routine is somewhat more difficult. Our Anthropia team has only been working together in this formation for a few months, similar to Haniel, and the roles and routines have yet to settle in. We compensate for this through regular Face2Face online conferences such as One-on-One, Monday Morning Stand-up, Friday Closing Stand-up, Creative Hangout and working groups for specific occasions.

But things are going well for us: In spite of Corona, we were able to set a new record in the applications for the third batch: 120 new teams have applied with their ideas!