December 09th 2021

Start-ups: 3x different views

Industrial engineers as entrepreneurs provide insight into their entrepreneurial activities at the WING* fireside evening.

MCI’s Industrial Engineering program hosted a special dialog in November when three MCI WING graduates gathered around the virtual fireplace to share their experiences as young entrepreneurs. In the end, it was an inspiring, entertaining two hours in which start-up founders Tobias Deckert, Lukas Schmelcher and Tobias Zetzsche talked about their careers, which are not necessarily ordinary for industrial engineers, and their enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. The three of them engaged in an eloquent, information-packed exchange, in which a lot was discussed, from the start-up idea to ups and downs to different learnings.

Tobi Deckert, the founder of ShredRack, describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades and feels at home in the classic product hardware sector. Both his engineering and business training are beneficial for his current career: from the idea to the market-ready product, he says, his studies at MCI helped him enormously. Starting with the first product, the inflatable roof rack ShredRack, he designed and calculated all the products himself and took care of the marketing. As a passionate sportsman and traveler himself, he has a precise idea of the needs of the outdoor market. His detailed business plan convinced the bank right away, and the key skills he acquired during his studies helped him to negotiate with a wide variety of people on a daily basis. In all honesty, he tells us that it has nevertheless been an emotional and financial roller coaster from the beginning to the present day.

Tobias Zetzsche and two colleagues founded the app Gronda, an online network for the hotel and restaurant industry. After several years in a large corporation with dual studies, the question arose for him: what endeavor can we found on our own? The lack of employees in tourism was finally the starting point for the foundation of the platform Gronda. For the first 3-4 years, this job platform ran very well, then Covid-19 came along. Suddenly, one was at zero Euros in sales, had to reduce the team and, with already 200,000 active users, face the challenge: what do we do better and newer? Today, Gronda not only serves the needs of the recruiting business but above all sees itself as a creator platform for the culinary industry and is now the largest of its kind in the world. Chefs and bartenders can monetize their knowledge online. Tobias is happy that the content business is just exploding, and he has a lot of plans for exciting times ahead. His vision is to create a real ecosystem for the entire industry.

Lukas Schmelcher's business idea is service-oriented: with his company inno-EDV, he offers his customers in the IT sector an IT full-service package at fixed monthly costs in the form of a modular product package with hardware and software as well as IT support from a single source. It is a must-have product, because without functioning IT nothing works today, from the group to the individual entrepreneur. Lukas believes that a support process such as IT must function simply and quickly. The fewer problems the customer has and the better the systems work, the better his product works and both sides are satisfied. For him, the business model as well as the problem solving must make absolute sense and create a win-win situation; it is worthwhile to think about it properly. A good part of all start-ups do not solve real problems or want to solve problems where there are none. "Am I really doing something that solves a problem? Or is it just cool to follow the current hype and be a founder?"

A legitimate question from the audience: what does all this have to do with industrial engineering? Why do you need an engineering education if you want to be an entrepreneur? And to what extent is an industrial engineer an engineer? For Tobias Zetzsche, Tobias Deckert is an industrial engineer par excellence, he uses the WING studies with his company ShredRack the most of all.

Lukas Schmelcher: Industrial engineering is not about being the best designer or mechatronics engineer; there are specialists for that. At the end of the day, the key competencies of motivating, leading, presenting and negotiating make the difference for successful entrepreneurial activity. The industrial engineer understands technology, but can also do business. His or her strength is linking technology and business; as a technician, he or she knows his or her products and is able to market them and bring them to the people. One is an interface manager with the know-how to motivate employees, find investors, interact with stakeholders and use professional networks. The professional field has an enormous range: everyone has to find their own way and go their own way.

In the end, the three share a whole series of insights with the audience: grow from problems, just start, get going, don't be so afraid and mistrustful, leave your comfort zone, break out, expand your horizons, even in private. Be honest, ethical and authentic.

*WING: Wirtschaftsingenieurwesen / Industrial Engineering & Management

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