WHU Students Inspire at IdeaLab! Founders’ Conference

Creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and a festive mood define this year’s meeting of minds from the start-up scene

The start-up community gathers together at the Burgplatz in Vallendar and engages in discussions at the conference

It’s always a special atmosphere that characterizes IdeaLab! – WHU Founders’ Conference in Vallendar every fall. From all over Germany and all around the world, those in attendance at the event have already been able to accomplish amazing things in only a few years. Some have developed business ideas, turned those ideas into companies, and then scaled those companies up, selling them for, in some cases, millions. Some are in charge of venture capital funds (VCs) and are on the hunt for promising start-ups and new company ideas in which to invest. Some are looking for inspiration in these successful role models, and others are on the lookout for potential internships. They exchange ideas, meet with old friends, prepare the ground for future cooperation—and have a lot of fun.

625 participants—representing a total of 14 universities and business schools and 26 start-ups (among other institutions)—made IdeaLab! – WHU Founder’s Conference 2022 a grand success. As every year, the conference was put on exclusively by a group of highly professional bachelor students from WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management and sponsored by a whole host of generous sponsors, many of which are venture capital firms and start-ups with roots at the school. The overarching theme of this year’s event was “Create Tomorrow.” Through their presentations, a number of founders gave the audience insights into the development of their business models and their experiences in founding and scaling their companies. Among them were Soheil Mirpour from Rocket Internet; Janna Ensthaler from the Green Generation Fund; Moritz Weisbrodt from Alaiko; and Manuel Müller with Emma – The Sleep Company. They provided the young start-ups with concrete tips for how to make their ideas reality—and also pointed out any pitfalls they should avoid. A series of panel talks provided the ideal platform to discuss a variety of topics, including investor prospects, managing interdisciplinary founder teams, and the role played by politics in the German start-up scene. Manuel Müller, founder and CEO of online mattress retailer Emma – The Sleep Company, suggests that today's budding entrepreneurs test their products quickly and as cost-effectively as possible and start selling them even if not fully mature yet. "Hire low-ego A-players," he said, "and get your hands dirty." These were just a few of the tips he gave the audience.

Day one of the conference also featured one particular remarkable entrepreneur: Xatar, a Kurdish-German rapper. In his younger years, the to-be rapstar had previously had run-ins with the law and first began writing verses while incarcerated. Today, he’s a lot more than his past. In addition to becoming a rapper, producer, and author, he’s also become an entrepreneur and investor. “I have no problem with risk at the start. But believe me, I see to it that my personal level of risk is reduced quickly,” he said, explaining his own strategy.

The unlikeany team celebrates their victory and holds up their symbolic cheque
The unlikeany team celebrates their victory and holds up the symbolic cheque

The second day saw the conference’s Pitch Battle, wherein ten hopeful founder teams went against each other, presenting their business ideas to a panel of expert investors. They received feedback from the jury during the competition, learning the importance of a successful pitch. The winning team from unlikeany walked away smiling with a media package valued at 75,000€ and the chance to participate in workshops with investor Picus Capital and McKinsey & Company.

At the end of the presentations and discussions, the participants had many chances to mingle and network. During rounds of speed dating, they were invited to pitch their ideas to investors or vie for internships and job openings. The traditional party held on a ship cruising down the Rhine River and following the gala dinner was a highlight of the evening. “I think I was almost non-stop in a conversation with someone,” said Maximilian Eckel of WHU’s Entrepreneurship Center enthusiastically. “By bringing so many WHU members together in person, IdeaLab! always does our community a great service.”