In the sixth edition of MBS Start-up Spirit on April 29, 2021, MBS alumni Markus Barnikel, Shireen Stengel and Isabelle Rennollet took inquisitive questions on the topic of starting up a company from Prof. Anne Tryba, Academic Director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship master’s program, and Alumni Relations Manager Martina Dengler. A number of MBS students also attended, some contemplating implementing their own business ideas in practice, while others simply wanted to find out more about how the start-up scene works. The audience listened attentively to the three company-founding alumni and actively engaged in the discussion.
Markus Barnikel graduated from MBS in 1995 is a true veteran of the start-up market. Following spells at Yahoo! and carpooling.com while they were still start-ups, he now advises young founders through Eisbach Partners, the consultancy firm he co-founded. By contrast, Shireen Stengel and Isabelle Rennollet are still new to the scene. In the fall of 2019, Isabelle Rennollet founded Die Mondpiloten, a 360° marketing agency for the entertainment, gaming and fashion industries. Meanwhile, Shireen Stengel set up her own business in early 2020: Green Canteen is a digital platform connecting organic farmers and commercial kitchens to promote regionality and seasonality in canteens. As the two women explained, they had never actually planned to go into business for themselves and valued the security of employment; in fact, it was somewhat coincidental encounters and private decisions that forced them to rethink matters.
One topic discussed during the course of the evening was the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the start-up scene. All three founders agreed that, even if they had been affected – because they had been unable to launch a platform as planned due to all canteens being closed, or because the pandemic had forced a switch to new digital formats – it was important to bounce back. They argued it was important to seize the pandemic as an opportunity to polish your own ideas, to network, and even explore new business ideas. “In the long run, such crises turn out to be drivers of innovation by revealing shortcomings, just as coronavirus has in relation to supply chain management,” explained Shireen Stengel. Markus Barnikel, who knows the scene very well, agreed that it was important not to worry too much about the impact of the pandemic. He said that the start-up ecosystem in Germany and Europe has never been healthier, it has never been easier to find investors, and the range of networking events and overall infrastructure has never been so extensive. Ultimately, your idea and your personal information is the be-all and end-all. “If you’re passionate about your idea, you’ll do just fine!” he told the MBS students.
One question from the audience of the MBS Start-up Spirit was whether it was best to wait until after graduation before starting a company or whether it could be done while studying. Once again, the three MBS alumni were in agreement: they explained that, as with so many things in life, there is no perfect time to start a company, and this is a very personal decision. In principle, however, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to start a business while still at university, as the overall process is more complex and time-intensive than it sometimes appears from the outside. Develop your idea, discuss it with your friends, find test groups, don’t be shy, tell others about your idea, exchange ideas with like-minded people, take advantage of networking events, incorporate feedback, and continuously optimize your idea – these were among the valuable tips from the alumni founders. “When it comes to pitching and attracting funding, a carefully developed pitch deck is crucial. Is your idea unique? Does it solve a problem? Does it serve a higher purpose? What is your market and roll-out plan? How much money do you need and how will you find it? These are all questions you need to answer,” said MBS alumnus Markus Barnikel.
At the same time, you should not be deterred or discouraged if you don’t succeed at the first attempt. It is important to remember that investors work in cycles and ideas sometimes just don’t fit into their portfolios – but they might later on. “I always say that a no is just a yes for the future!” said Isabelle Rennollet encouragingly. The speakers explained that start-up founders will experience many ups and downs in their lives and must therefore be flexible and always ready to adapt their ideas. “Founding a start-up is a rollercoaster. If you don’t like rollercoasters, you’d better get employed,” said Shireen Stengel succinctly. So, what else do founders need? Simple: The ability to collaborate! No matter whether you have a team of co-founders or decide to go it alone, you need to be aware that you can never do everything yourself. As Isabelle put it, “success is never a one-man show”.
Many thanks to our alumni Markus, Shireen and Isabelle for taking part in MBS Start-up Spirit, offering fascinating insights, and sharing valuable tips and tricks!