“The most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur is having a real impact."
Justin Gemeri, Nico Heby, and Linh Phung began their entrepreneurial journey with what is usually the initial trigger for every successful company: a problem and the desire to come up with an innovative solution.
They became friends when they were studying in Frankfurt, Germany, and had to deal with a lot of theoretical information during lectures. Justin points out that, especially during the final exams, students need to study and memorize a lot, and it’s frustrating when they realise that there is no practical connection to the world of work.
He quickly realised that it’s not only students who feel their potential is untapped, but an entire generation of graduates, young founders, and researches. This digital generation has enormous potential for innovation but no real opportunities to use it in an early stage of their career. Similarly, they noticed that a lot of great businesses were struggling with digitalization and the pressure to come up with innovative solutions – a challenge that younger people are often best suited to solve. So, Justin and his team decided to fill this knowledge gap and set up Ekipa, a full-service innovation provider that connects the innovative potential of the digital generation with enterprises and organisations that are struggling to come up with innovative ideas. The start-up created a space where a business shares its challenges and young people team up to recommend a solution to it. This is a dynamic and agile approach that benefits both sides: businesses find a solution to their challenges and students get the practical experiences they need to bring their ideas to life.
Justin is very proud to be making a difference to so many young students and enterprises. Solving a problem for others and making their lives a little easier is what pushes him every single day.
Not only does Ekipa run economically motivated challenges but tries to address social problems. With one of Europe’s biggest energy providers, they challenged millennials to come up with innovative ideas that reduce pollution in an urban environment.
Justin and his team were supported by Youth Business Germany (YBG) as soon as they came up with a business idea. Especially at the early stage, they learned a lot from the YBG community: Justin recalls the Pitch Nights and individual coaching sessions with Jochen Bloß as a wonderful way to test and further develop ideas. Here they were also able to develop their first financial plan.
The young founder of Ekipa knows that it is not easy to create something new and there will be setbacks and frustration along his entrepreneurial path, however, he’s confident he’ll succeed. Ekipa now has its office in Frankfurt and it currently employs 13 people, many of whom started as interns during their studies and have now become permanent employees. The founders put a lot of emphasis on the importance of personal development, encouraging everyone to work on their goals and develop new skills. Next year, the startup will move to a bigger office in the centre of Frankfurt and will get its first company car.
Justin has one piece of advice for other young entrepreneurs:
“The most important characteristic for a founder is to believe in himself and his own idea. It doesn't matter whether you have to convince a customer of your product or service, motivate your employees or overcome a setback: the conviction of your idea is always a key success factor”
YBG offers young entrepreneurs a twelve-month scholarship programme during which they learn to use basic entrepreneurial tools, have access to its network, and are individually mentored by business experts. It is part of the Youth Business Europe programme, a regional initiative supported by the Citi Foundation to help young entrepreneurs to start or grow a business.