International Self Made and Dancing Angela Merkel Ornaments

The “International Self Made” working group is a project set up by students currently completing their fourth semester at ISM (WS 14/15). The group’s goal is to create a database that helps graduates progress a business idea and get started as entrepreneurs.

I’m grateful to have an opportunity to Skype with the head of the working group, Marius Kaufhold, who is currently spending a semester in London.

Why did you choose the name “International Self Made”? And what is it exactly?
We believe the name is quite appropriate for ISM. The term “Self Made” refers to achieving success by one’s own efforts and “International” defines the “International School of Management”. It’s a type of university network that allows you to gain and maintain the contacts a young entrepreneur needs in a global marketplace.

How long has the network been up and running? And what gave you the initial idea for it?
During the first semester at ISM we realised there wasn’t actually a working group that echoed our vision. So in the second semester we decided to create our own group in order to play a greater role within the ISM structure; instead of just turning up, studying and going home again. It provides us with an opportunity to establish and experience things together. The working group has been in existence for about 18 months now.

How many people from the group have already started up their own businesses?
Since the working group is ‘still in its infancy’ it’s not yet possible to name any specific group member. However, we work closely with former students and ISM, including the university’s alumni network. Besides contact via XING, the university also organises annual events where former students who are now successful entrepreneurs come and discuss their experiences with current students. We also have good ties with these former students. For instance, they offer internships in their enterprises and agree to give presentations at ISM about start-ups.

Can you give me an example of a successful start-up run by a former ISM student?
Yes. For example, a group of former students launched the online shop “Just Spices”, where it’s possible to order individually created spices and spice blends which are then delivered to your doorstep. Similar to Mymuesli.

Which activities are undertaken by the working group? And which types of media are used to access information?
On the one hand, there are four pre-arranged meetings each semester. However, we often work independently, developing our own business plans, as we all wish to be our own bosses one day. And, on the other hand, we have developed a database that is updated on a regular basis, for example with the details of solicitors specialising in various areas of law who can provide us with budget advice. Nonetheless, our most important activity is organising presentations by successful start-ups, and not just for those managed by former ISM students. For instance, Zalando, Kerbholz or Mymuesli. They are invited to ISM and conduct a kind of seminar, describing in minute detail how it all began – it’s really interesting stuff. Furthermore, we also work with these start-ups outside the university network.

I’m sure during your time in London you must have come across the hugely popular solar-powered “dancing Queen” figures, which can be found in every souvenir shop. If I wished to produce a solar-powered “dancing Angela Merkel” ornament for the German market, how could you help me? Are there any particular requirements that I need to meet?

What we could do is use our close links with the German company Kerbholz to seek contact with manufacturers in Asia that can produce and supply anything – from sunglasses to ski suits – on a large scale. There is also the ecommerce network “Alibaba”, which recently celebrated its IPO and brings together all Asian production facilities under one roof. This provides you with an opportunity to present a product and invite quotes and then wait and see what the manufacturers offer in terms of price, materials and quality. Our good understanding of the marketplace and excellent knowledge of this network would also allow us to find out which factories actually produce the “dancing Queen”. Then it would be up to you to supply a design, the technical side of things could be left to someone else. It’s just important that you have sufficient financial resources to initially order two to three thousand figures which would then be packed and supplied in containers. Your job would then be to pick up the goods from the customs authorities in Hamburg before selling them online.

It was obviously a great idea to set up the “International Self Made” working group. Can you tell us about any of the group’s future projects?
I’m currently organising two new presentations for the working group about Soundcloud, an online platform for music streaming, and Petobel, an online shop for pet food and accessories. Both of them are highly successful German start-ups that now operate EU-wide. The presentations at ISM will give them the chance to express their ideas and explain their thinking while describing how they managed to set up their own businesses. Moreover, I’m currently developing a start-up together with a good friend of mine and fellow member of the working group, as we have both come up with a number of ideas that can be marketed and know who to turn to for professional advice in general and legal advice in particular. Our project focuses on the online gambling sector as, theoretically, it has been possible for private companies to obtain licences for certain types of online gambling in Germany since 2013. We hope to be the first in this industry, since there are no real competitors as yet. Unfortunately, people keep throwing spanners in the works, which means we are still busy optimising our business plan – but we’ll get there in the end. This is the reason why we created the database. We started from scratch and hope that others can learn from our experiences.

If you are interested in the working group’s activities or plan to set up your own business after graduating, visit the Facebook group of the same name.

Author: Sahra Plewka