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Woman-Led WHU Start-Ups at Google for Startups Growth Academy

Founders of two WHU-affiliated skincare start-ups participate in acceleration program put on by Google

Christina Reh, Sophie Sauter, and Simone Paschedag of baybies. Photo: Nell Killius/baybies

Once the first orders start to roll in, things get serious. The Google for Startups Growth Academy, an acceleration program designed to bring together founders of several start-ups, recognizes this, and has highlighted eight of today’s most promising start-ups working to make a name for themselves. Of those chosen, all founded or co-founded by women, two have strong ties to WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management: Formel Skinand baybies, flipsides of the same coin. Both businesses, which are currently active within the DACH region, aim to promote skin health and wellness while actively improving the lives of those with compromised skin.

Acceptance into the program meant applying the theories learned in the classroom to realistic situations and getting feedback from those who know best. Participants were tasked with confronting obstacles that present themselves in everyday business (e.g., customer retention rates) and then asked to come up with a concrete plan for staying the course. By offering these start-ups a confidential and trusted space to openly discuss their daily proceedings, The Google for Startups Growth Academy ensured that those who partook in the program would be able to directly connect what they learned with how they manage their business. In short, this was no mere theoretical exercise. For somebody like Dr. Sarah Bechstein, who had no prior direct experience in business, the experience was invaluable.

Having suffered from acne throughout her adolescence, Dr. Bechstein knows all too well how important the health of one’s skin in. During her medical training, her frustrating skin issues unexpectedly came back, much to her chagrin. It wasn’t until her advisors, with whom she met on a regular basis, intervened that she was able to find the formula that worked best for her. Today, she is paying it forward and dedicating her dermatological expertise and firsthand experience toFormel Skin, a joint venture with her partners Florian Semel and Anton Kononov, the latter having completed both his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree in Business Administration, Management, and Operations at WHU. Since 2019, the three of them have been working to offer their clients a level of personalized care similar to the kind Dr. Bechstein received from her advisors.

With much of the world sequestered behind closed doors, forced inside by the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth became an essential component to ensuring everyone’s well-being. After its legal adoption in Germany in 2019, the three founders to-be spotted a gap in the market—and way to reach people who might not otherwise have had the chance to meet with skin specialists. To avoid the delays in treatment common in this line of work, Formel Skin’s clients submit self-taken photos of their faces and consult with medical professionals who specialize in acne, rosacea, and other skin ailments. This treatment, tailored specifically to the client, can be quickly adapted should their needs change over time.

Anton Kononov, Dr. Sarah Bechstein, and Florian Semler of Formel Skin. Photo: Formel Skin.

Notably, Dr. Bechstein’s plight is not unique. When Sophie Sauter, also struggling with highly sensitive skin, looked through the shelves at cosmetic shops and pharmacies, she pondered how it could be so difficult to find a product entirely void of potentially harmful additives and fillers. She then began researching products specifically designed for infants, hoping to find what she was looking for. Fortunately for Sauter, she did not: It is out of her frustration that the germ of an idea was born. Together with her colleagues Simone Paschedag and Christina Reh, a research assistant and PhD candidate for the Chair of Digital Marketing at WHU, Sauter developed baybies, a boutique wellness and skincare company that specializes in neutral, vegan, and clean toiletries, all of which are Natrue certified.

It is their hope to expand their line, which currently includes lotions and oils for pregnant women, infants, and people with sensitive skin, to other wellness products in the future. Above all, they wish to get it right from day one and continue growing with the customer. The founders noted that they take a wide range of consumers and their skin types into consideration when crafting their products. These are not products solely designed for the nuclear family, according to Reh: “It’s not just mom and dad anymore. Families are fluid. Our products are not only for the traditional family, and we want people to remember that perceived ‘women’s issues’ are not only ours—they are everyone’s issues.”

By following their intuition and keen sense of what the market needs, the founders of these start-ups have found early success. Perhaps having sensitive skin isn’t such a curse after all.

To read more about the program (in German), please click here.