Pioneering Spirit and the Steinbeis Consultation Support Program

The Steinbeis start-up team backs idea behind interactive assistant

What’s the best way to help with a promising new business idea that has been thought up by an inventive expert so typical of the pioneering spirit encountered in the south of Germany? If a startup needs the views of people from a variety of angles, it’s important to have the support of a professional network to go through the startup plan systematically. This is where the expertise offered by the Steinbeis startup consultants comes in. They helped Markus Krill get an innovative startup idea called Sloopify off the ground. Sloopify is an interactive mobile assistant based on Sales 4.0 principles which links digital content with human-centric solutions.

No two entrepreneurs are the same. Some have an initial inspiration, while others already have a draft business plan up their sleeve. These two starting points could hardly be more different. To deal with this, there is a pool of Steinbeis startup consultants armed with an array of individual solutions, methods, and insights based on their own experience. When founders are laying the tracks for a new business idea, like becoming selfemployed, a coach can give them valuable pointers that lighten the load and help focus the mind on the essentials.

One such consultant and coach is Verena Geisel, who advises entrepreneurs and managers to develop their self-management skills. “Everyone perceives and interprets things around them and the things they do according to their own personality templates and experiences. The key is to see the person and their individual differences and appreciate that,” explains Geisel, who has been helping Markus Krill as he ventures into being his own boss. Krill is an engineer and marketing specialist who has gained valuable experience in his career until now, not only as a product designer but also as a deputy head of sales. He has been familiar with the challenges of working alongside sales people for years and is examining the impact different demands have on people and their personality, especially in terms of continuing professional development and “life-long learning.” He is also seeking answers to these demands among the new tools and applications offered by the internet and digital solutions, especially those that revolve around the human being.

This provided enough questions for Krill to embark on the consultation process. The approach adopted by Geisel is based on a brand of logic called effectuation. Coaching sessions start by lifting ideas from a group of people that keep coming up with new ideas, despite uncertainty: experienced “repeat entrepreneurs.” Effectuation works well in areas where causal management logic (set objectives – plan – implement) comes up against a brick wall. This is because it has an excellent ability to integrate insights and resources into the process using iteration loops. The method is used to introduce expert opinions into live processes and this approach was applied to the entire startup support program offered by Steinbeis.

The support Krill received from the Steinbeis Network came from Felicitas Steck, who focused on network management; Mario Buric, who helped with funding; Doris Deichselberger, whose specialty was project management; and Wolfgang Muller, who looked at aspects relating to backing and patents. Felicitas Steck is a strong believer in the effectiveness of stakeholder analysis and network analysis as part of the effectuation method. As the Steinbeis consultant explains, “What ‘focusing on’ meant was we started with a network analysis and the people Markus Krill knows – anyone who could be helpful with his startup ideas. Forging good partnerships with others, and especially entering into strategic alliances and arrangements with key partners who could relate to his plans, helps reduce uncertainty.” Ultimately, the success of a startup is strongly linked to the right partnerships and a good network.

“The first step when it comes to funding is to understand the client’s business model and analyze it from a critical standpoint,” explains Mario Buric. Finances should never be viewed in isolation or without also considering the business founder. This is because the sources of funding are completely different from founder to founder. The Steinbeis coach highlighted classic startup funding options as well as digital alternatives such as crowd funding, crowd investment, crowd lending, and credit platforms.

Doris Deichselberger, who is director of the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Change Management and Business Coaching, worked with the founder to analyze the market and competitive situation regarding the project, with a particular focus on potential clients. The key questions that had to be asked were how Sloopify would stand out in the market and the benefits customers would derive from the platform. Both questions revolved around Krill’s main goal of developing a web-based application that would link the world of digital solutions with coaching content, a bit like a virtual coach that would also make sustainable change fun.

One essential element of a successful startup is also understanding the property rights of the competition with respect to brands, designs, registered concepts, and patents. There are also times when a startup’s own ideas have to be seen as and implemented as products that could create a temporary market monopoly in the face of third parties. With software it’s often crucial to call on the help of third-party experts. Krill was advised on intellectual property rights and funding options by the experts at Infothek, the Steinbeis Transfer Center headed up by Wolfgang Muller.

“As a founder, I see my business idea gradually taking shape and the things they highlight from different angles have also made it possible to identify a few blind spots. Working with the coaches from Steinbeis, who are so experienced, put each piece of the puzzle in place. It’s brought me a long way forward – 1 plus 1 was a lot more than 2!” says Krill, summarizing how things went.

His concept regarding how Sloopify actually works has now become much m´ore tangible. Sloopify is like a virtual gym for developing personal attitudes, motivations, and identities, all with the support of a personal assistant who helps you better understand your behavior and emotions, keep practicing, and make adjustments as necessary. In doing so, achieving your goals is also fun. Key know-how needed to work in sales – such as personal perceptions, self-control, motivations, and empathy – is made available to users when they start each exercise, a bit like exercising your muscles on a regular basis. All assistance is provided through the app, which leads users through an animated environment with a clear thread of continuity. The app suggests possible course of action, also giving users handy hints and challenges relating to the current situation. These are matched individually to users based on artificial intelligence. The system draws on so-called activity and feedback loops, which are based on the actual resources and interests of users so that ideas can be synchronized with their goals. The app is also based on scientific data from a variety of areas such as the gaming industry, motivation research, brain research, and selling psychology. The aim of this is to unleash personal potential and involve users in a learning experience that is both innovative and inspirational. Krill’s business idea is now more tangible and the business founder is currently looking for investors and development partners from the field of artificial intelligence, neuroscience, motivational psychology, big data, user experience, and gamification.

Contact

[Translate to English:] Verena Geisel
Steinbeis Consulting Center Business Start-up (Stuttgart)
verena.geisel@stw.de

Other Steinbeis consultants involved in the project:
Mario Buric (mario.buric@stw.de) | Doris Deichselberger (doris.deichselberger@stw.de)
Wolfgang Müller (wolfgang.mueller@stw.de) | Felicitas Steck (felicitas.steck@stw.de)

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