How American Startups Motivate Others to Start their own Company

The winning team of Jugend gründet travels to Silicon Valley

Intense discussions about founding a business and the risks and opportunities startups face were a big part of the latest Steinbeis-sponsored trip to Silicon Valley. The winning team of the “Jugend gründet” competition traveled to the US at the end of October. Caroline Vandersee, Simon Baro, Adrian Feisst, Leonard Jöst, Jonas Madlinger, and Jeremia Schmitt from Achern High School won the trip as the grand prize of the national “Jugend gründet” 2015/16 contest – a competition organized by the Steinbeis Innovation Center for Business Development at Pforzheim University. The group developed a tent called IndepenTent for their fictitious company Colorgy. The tent is equipped with embedded dyed cells, which generate power, making it an independent energy supplier.

In Silicon Valley, the young team of founders were accompanied by contest juror Prof. Dr. Nils Hogsdal and teacher Wolfram Ehmann and got the chance to meet a string of startups, giving them substantial insights into the startup scene there. It was quite impressive, especially considering no other place in the world is home to so many startup companies. Many of them – like Google and Facebook – have even become global giants.

In the meetings, startup founders like Bjorn Herrmann – winner of the “Jugend grundet” competition from 2005 – had a chance to elucidate the path they took in founding their business. Herrmann emphasized how much the contest motivated him to become an entrepreneur, laying the foundation stone for his journey as a business founder. Another key point the startup founders told the high school students was that failure is all part of the experience. “But it’s no reason to give up. It should be just the motivation you need to try again,” the founders summarized in unison. All of them founded further startups with new ideas, with which they have become successful today. The group from Achern also discovered that the conditions in Silicon Valley are highly advantageous for startups. They get support from investors and it is extremely useful having access to facilities like the Plug And Play Techcenter. The center makes office space available to founders at preferential rates and facilitates access to investors or business partners. Numerous German companies also use this platform to contact American startups. Founder and startup mentor Oliver Hanisch spelled out the ecosystem that is Silicon Valley: This isn’t just a place with lots of startups, it’s more about a specific mindset here. Many young people come here hoping to find success as entrepreneurs. The decisive factors here are speed and being open to continually re-evaluate one’s own ideas. It is also customary for those who have made it in business to channel something back to those who are just setting out – be it in the shape of consulting or capital. Competition is seen here as more of a challenge than a threat.

All of the people who talked to the Colorgy team were very interested in the business concept devised by the “Jugend grundet” winners. This encouraged them to keep working on the idea. Of course the fringe events of the one-week trip to the US were also exciting and gave the travelers plenty of insights into the economy and history of California. At the Volkswagen Design Center, the group discovered interesting background information on the development and design of a car. They also had the chance to see driverless Google cars in actual traffic. During their visit to the Google campus, it became clear to them how what was once a startup grew to become a global titan. At the Intel museum, the students saw the historical development of the processor. A tour through Stanford University showed them the course programs on offer. It was pointed out that many startups grew out of university projects. The Institute of Design at Stanford plays an important role in this respect. It was established by SAP founder, Hasso Plattner, and the team got to swing by for a visit.

Of course the group also went to San Francisco where they enjoyed a ride on the famous cable cars, visited the prison island of Alcatraz, and got to ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. On their way down to Los Angeles, the group toured Hearst Castle, the former private residence of media mogul William Hearst, who was the first to start so-called yellow journalism back in the early 20th century. Visits to the beaches in Malibu and Santa Monica and a stroll down the Walk of Fame rounded off what was an eventful week, but the students learned and experienced so much.

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