Sebastian Almer is a consultant for business model innovation, design thinking and agile transformation. He prepares companies in the region of Ulm for the challenges of tomorrow. Find out how he’s contributing to the startup ecosystem in Ulm, what challenges are the founders facing in that region and what are the positive aspects of that startup scene.
1. Hi Sebastian, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you entered the startup world?
I studied Information Technology and after my studies, I founded an IT company together with two friends. This was my first entrepreneurial experience. After that, I worked as an IT consultant, but I also had a desire to embark on a new entrepreneurial journey, so I started writing some business plans. Finally, I wrote a plan about rapidly prototyping new digital business models and I found a strategic partner, but he wanted me to work on this in his enterprise. So I started to build something like an incubation program with a focus on innovative products and business models. We set up an innovation lab in Frankfurt and gathered a team for innovative prototypes. We were bringing ideas to life within 30 days.
After that, I decided that I want to start something where I live, so I started as some kind of solopreneur here in Ulm. And even though I had a good technical background I figured that a financial and a business model perspective is more relevant in my region. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working with startups and founders at every stage. Also with some more mature companies that were already in the scale stage. In addition to that, I worked as a lecturer and mentor at the regional universities. A couple of months back I founded another startup with some friends. It took us 4 weeks from the idea to market entry and 8 weeks to have a profitable business.
2. You’re a consultant for business model innovation, design thinking and agile transformation. Tell us more about your mission.
There are two parts to this mission. The first one is regarding both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, so people inside companies and those who want to start their own business. I help them when it comes to bringing their ideas to the market and preparing and executing their plans. The second part of the mission is to speed up and facilitate everything to get things going.
3. What challenges are founders facing these days in the Ulm region?
When people think about startups, they think the hardest part is getting funding. But the startups I work with don’t face this problem. This is a very wealthy region. A couple of months back there was a survey to see what startups here are struggling with most. The need for financial support was ranked very low, although most of the companies already have gained funding in large ticket sizes. What they need the most support with is managing their day to day businesses. I can support them best with the boring stuff such as financial planning, controlling, accounting and setting up a lean approach for their companies.
It’s important for the companies to be ready anytime for meeting investors and representing their businesses to them clearly. There are a lot of private investors and companies that want to invest in this region but it takes a lot of effort to put all the parts of the puzzle together and speak to these people.
My advice for founders in the region is to just keep moving. Don’t make too many plans for the future and focus on the early market entry and early paying customers. About 90% of the founders I have mentored in the past couple of years have pivoted their business models and are not doing the things they had planned firsthand. But they are now running successful businesses and earning money.
4. What is it about the startup world that particularly attracts you? How are you contributing to the startup ecosystem in the Ulm region?
Just as most founders, I love the contact with the customers. The spark that enlightens us is working with people. And if someone is willing to pay for the work that you do that’s one of the greatest appreciations of the value you have delivered to them. I love to work with people who are keen on bringing a new product to the market and who are enthusiastic about their idea. I love people who are not only talking about things but actually bringing ideas to life.
When it comes to contributing to the startup ecosystem here, I think my network is the most valuable asset. I’m very well connected in the region and I bring different kinds of players together. Whether it’s startups, angels, investors, subject matter experts or regional multipliers.
5. What are the positive aspects of the startup scene in Ulm? What would you like to improve in the current ecosystem?
To be perfectly honest, people from other parts of Germany rarely come to Ulm to start a business. But the entrepreneurs from the region don’t want to leave, because they have all the support they need here and they’re not forced to move to bigger cities. Over the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of support from the government, regional incubators, universities and the chamber of commerce.
Ulm’s startup scene is still evolving, but what’s crucial is to keep the ecosystem together. It has to feel like a real community, and everyone should feel at home. I see that as an issue when it comes to later-stage startups. When you’re in the stage of scaling your business you face different challenges with planning, controlling, accounting, leadership, and management and that’s quite different from the challenges you were facing in the early stages. There’s a lack of support for companies at this stage and the startups are not very well linked together. The improvement would be to extend the startup community. That’s beneficial for the early-stage startups too because they can learn from the later-stage ones. However, the region is evolving very well and in the right direction.
Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts with us, Sebastian. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.
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