German Program: Let’s get it started

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Berlin: home of the avant-garde, graffiti, curry wurst, and yes, startups. Throughout our five weeks our German track has explored some of the dynamics for Germany’s many entrepreneurial ventures and dissected both what has caused the influx of such companies and the various alternative paths for growth.

On one extreme of the spectrum lie the giants. One such player, Rocket Internet, where during our visit we had the opportunity to learn about a serial entrepreneur giant. Here, aspiring entrepreneurs can access tried-and-true expertise, office space, and fluid staffing models in connection with the mother company. Of course, these valuable resources must be budgeted in to the founders’ plan in the form of challenging equity decisions. Should one choose to found or expand via Rocket Internet, the company’s deep bench of go-getters can help take him or her from idea conception to a Zalando-sized success story.

Students in the Lauder German program and Cucula co-founder Corinna Sy

Another large player in Germany takes a different approach concerning equity and creative ownership spectrum: the Fraunhofer Institute’s Venture group. We were astounded to learn that technology-oriented startups could have access to nearly free conferences, advice, state funding and critical technology licenses to get off the ground.

But then, some of Germany’s most inspiring startup stories manage to patch together fully self-created models of success. Our group was lucky enough to visit one such player, Cucula, which takes its name from the Hausa language of west central Africa, meaning “to take care of one another” and “to work together.” A self-dubbed “Refugees Company for Crafts and Design,” Cucula developed a unique business model in cooperation with asylum-seekers to address the challenges they face in integrating in Germany. By offering holistic program of legal support, language courses, and professional training and paid employment with a schedule that allows for benefit from the other resources, the company helps newcomers thrive in Germany. Though a so-called angel investor grant helped the company early on, innovative product development and a well-run crowdfunding campaign have sustained Cucula through its first years. Today, they continue to successfully support the program participants and produce beautiful designer furniture.

Though we have already explored several different models employed in Germany to launch a business, we have more opportunities on deck: conversations with Lauder alumni, visits to state organizations, lectures from local experts. These experiences have certainly made us excited to bring new ideas and approaches back to campus in August.

-Katelyn Halldorson & Vanessa Hering (Lauder ’19, German Program)