WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management is renowned for its entrepreneurial specialization within the world of international business. This is evidenced by its commitment to encouraging students of all programs – from bachelor’s candidates new to the world of business to Executive MBA cohorts with at least eight years of executive experience – to establish flourishing self-made businesses. The premise of the student-organized 3 Day Startup event, held the weekend of February 5th, involved hopeful entrepreneurs developing their business ideas and concepts in advance to prepare for their meetings with WHU founders, ranging from the WHU Entrepreneurship Center staff to specialists in their field with the knowledge and expertise to support their mentees.
Upon arrival in the event – in this case in the collective online chat room as the event was held online due to COVID-19 regulations – Prof. Dr. Dries Faems, WHU’s Chair of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technological Transformation encouraged students to “nurture the WHU entrepreneurial network […] despite the very difficult circumstances we are facing today.” Each team was asked to quickly introduce themselves before a round of “speed dating” in which contestants and mentors, often referred to within the context of the event as founders, were provided the opportunity to enjoy a lightning round of more specific introductions. The event moved quickly as the teams were shuffled into separate chat rooms to consult with their respective, preassigned mentors to get into the nitty gritty of their perspective businesses.
Students were expected to think outside the box and challenge their preconceptions of what their business idea was “supposed” to be. They were expected to articulate how and why their concept might tip the scales or shift the status quo within their industry. The enthusiasm and motivation were tangible, even over a computer screen, as students answered in-depth questions about their core goals and attempted to develop the fundamental and vital components of their pitches. Be it through the development of an innovative learning-based platform or a jacket with its own autonomous alarm system, WHU students consistently exemplified creativity and innovation.
Gerrit McGowan, Managing Director of the WHU Entrepreneurship Center, encouraged his mentees to consider a myriad of aspects, stating the importance of integrating “your purpose, value proposition, the mechanics of the user experience, the core business model, and how it can be used to make a profit…” He shared this to aid the budding entrepreneurs in developing a well-rounded pitch which left little room for doubt regarding the efficacy of and need for any given product or business. Students were encouraged to set short term goals, often coined milestones within the context of these meetings, to establish benchmarks and not lose sight of their end goal. McGowan cited Yogi Berra as stating, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else,” to encourage his mentees to “find their core defining purpose, rather than just providing a product or a service.” Laender Maerkisch of Stardust defined the word intelligence as “the ability to solve problems,” a definition which ties well into the concept of the event as it promotes the development and propagation of ideas that will ideally make life a little bit simpler for their intended target audience.
The WHU initiative does not call itself a bootcamp lightly. This intensive three-day program is nothing short of an entrepreneurial training camp packed with mentoring sessions, workshops lead by industry specialists associated with WHU, pitch presentations by the contestants, and finally an award ceremony in which the best business concept is chosen by a panel of judges. That is not to say that participants were too busy to enjoy themselves – the atmosphere was enthusiastically comfortable, with students and mentors alike making casual conversation in both German and English between meetings, and enjoying evenings spent networking with a well-deserved beverage of their choice. Alumnus Lukas Pauly, WHU Master in Entrepreneurship graduate of 2019 and Senior Investment Associate at Picus Capital, inspired attendees after a long day of business development, sharing that “Entrepreneurship doesn’t start when you reach out for the first time to investors, but much earlier, on the day you think of the idea for the very first time.”
The event functioned as a funnel in that contestants entered with a well-thought-out idea and exited with a much more tangible and applicable business model, bringing them one step closer to the foundation of their own companies. It has already aided in the production of several success stories including but not limited to the birth of “Kitchen Stories” and “Bitahoy,” the latter of which returned this year for the networking session at the end of day one. It is abundantly clear that the creativity and enthusiasm of WHU students and alumni alike paired with their entrepreneurial spirit allows for innovation to thrive and ideas to bloom into businesses and products which do their part to make the world a better place.