In an interview with TRANSFER magazine, Professor Peter Schäfer outlines why he is so passionate about entrepreneurship education and introduces the services offered by ifex.
Hello, Professor Schäfer. One issue you fight for is ensuring that entrepreneurship is adopted in planning at schools. Why is it so important for you to introduce this topic to young people?
People stand to earn more money in paid employment so it’s important in our state to foster early awareness of the potential on offer to people interested and willing to set up a business, and they need the right training. Also, more than anything else, it’s important to identify entrepreneurial talent and sponsor it in a targeted manner. Entrepreneurship education has a long tradition in Baden-Württemberg schools. ifex was already working on a program that revolved around schools and selfemployment as early as 1997. The program is still in place today, and over the years, it’s resulted in a plethora of innovative entrepreneurship education tools. But what’s even more important is that these tools have been kept in place in the long term, or at least they’ve gone a long way in becoming established across the state, and this is mainly thanks to collaboration with partners, the ministry of education and cultural affairs, project backers at the chambers of commerce and business associations, different foundations, the education authorities, and the schools themselves. Our aims will be bolstered further in the future by the fact that the new Baden-Württemberg education plan includes the subject Business, Career, and University Studies Orientation.
As the person heading up the initiative for startups and business succession at the Baden-Württemberg Ministry for the Economy, Employment, and Housing, you’re familiar with the startup scene in the state. Baden-Württemberg counts as one of the most innovative regions in Europe, but business founders still have a large number of obstacles to overcome here. What do you do at ifex to help them with this?
The startup scene in Baden-Württemberg can’t be compared with Berlin or Hamburg, because there are completely different startup scenes in Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Freiburg, Stuttgart, Tübingen and Ulm, which are completely different in terms of industry focus or key technologies. But if you look at them together – as an overall ecosystem – we’re probably in more of a B2B startup state, so it’s important that this is reflected in the support that’s provided. So much is done within the individual areas, adhering to such high standards, and we support these initiatives carefully with the right funding for consulting, coaching, accelerator sessions, startup camps, plus a variety of new and more experimental formats. Of course we also have a powerful catalogue of financing options to offer, ranging from low-threshold innovation vouchers to high-volume funding through our own L-Bank or the SME investment company, Mittelständische Beteiligungsgesellschaft.
That being said, ifex doesn’t just work in the startup field, but also deals with company succession issues. It’s particularly important in that kind of area to mediate between the young and old. Where do you see the biggest obstacles in this respect?
The biggest difficulty we have is with the huge dip in the number of company successions within families. Only around 40% of family businesses resolve succession internally. So the measures we carry out these days focus more on sensitizing the people who will potentially be handing down the company, and getting to them earlier on. We also go through a matching process with external parties interested in taking on a business. Baden-Württemberg is unique within Germany for the services it provides in this area, with company succession moderators (at the chambers of commerce and the German Hotel and Restaurant Association) or the business transfer coaching program, which can help plan company succession early.
If you had to make a prediction for the future, in what ways do you think the startup scene will change over the next five years, as well as the startup culture, and which areas do you think should receive support?
The national and international competition for the best startups is already fully underway. We need to work together with all partners in positioning ourselves more confidently as a business location – that means working on our appeal to people in the state who’re keen to set up a business, but also to people outside the state with an innovative service or a hi-tech product, who are looking for a business location that doesn’t just offer outstanding support through consulting and funding, but also has key orders to point to and entrepreneurial partnerships. But the scene is also changing and new players are popping up. So it’s important not just to seek dialogue with our tried-and-trusted partners, the chambers, the associations, or the economic development bodies, but also with new networks and initiators – and to offer to work together with them. That especially means the new startup associations, business angel networks, VC networks, or corporate accelerators, which are being set up by a number of large companies in the state.
Professor Peter Schäfer is the head of ifex (the initiative for startups and business succession) at the Baden-Württemberg Ministry for the Economy, Employment, and Housing. ifex initiates state campaigns, competitions, new funding models, and fasttrack initiatives. It acts as a coordinator of projects and partners at a regional and international level, supporting communication, training, consulting, and coaching, as well as target group-specific pilot schemes and regional projects offered by partner organizations.