Take on the pandemic
Social startups turn out to be solid
In a crown pandemic, even well-known, traditional companies are struggling to survive. However, the situation is even more difficult for many startups that are trying not only to earn, but also to make the world a little better.
Shortly before the corona crisis, Steffen Preuss and his start-up Icho Systems developed an interactive ball that was intended to offer dementia patients a new way to communicate with light, noise and vibration. Katharina Mayer created a cake gossip startup that sold cakes carefully handcrafted by seniors while offering older people a meeting place. Sebastian Stricker sold bottled water or liquid soap through Share and used a portion of the proceeds to help those in need. Then came the pandemic and it changed everything for startups as well.
Two years after the outbreak of the pandemic, none of the three startups gave up. All three have changed and have thus managed to strengthen under the changed conditions. However, at one point, they remained true to themselves: it’s still not just about money for them. Like many other so-called social enterprises, they want to make the world a little better with their work.
“Overall, the sector has proved to be very resilient,” says Markus Sauerhammer, general manager of the Send social enterprise network. One of the reasons is that innovation and adaptability are part of the DNA of such startups.
“The crisis has survived quite well”
The Icho Example: Steffen Preuß of Icho Systems, together with friends, developed a high-tech therapy ball for dementia and the mentally handicapped in 2019, and was about to start serial production when the pandemic struck. Young entrepreneurs were hit twice by the crisis: bottlenecks in the supply of electronic components slowed down production. At the same time, the overworking of nursing staff in the home and the access restrictions related to the pandemic kept sales also from taking place.
“We took the time and we’ve grown a lot,” says Preuss. The company initially focused on selling therapy balls, which cost a good 1,400 euros to nursing homes, but Icho is now focusing on a rental model to reach more private customers. “People want our product for their own parents with Alzheimer’s disease or for children with disabilities,” Preuss informs. New ways of using the therapeutic ball have also been developed – e.g. games for disabled children. “We managed to turn a failure in the corona crisis into a little success story,” says Preuss. Negotiations are also underway with health insurance companies to make the ball available on prescription.
An example rumor about cookies: The startup was created in 2014 out of the belief that grandma makes the most delicious cakes – but also to do something social for seniors. For years, Kutentratsch sold cakes that “grandmothers and grandparents” baked according to their own recipes in the company’s bakery in Munich. This should be fun for cake lovers, but also help seniors – through baking social, a sense of being needed, and extra income. Then Corona showed up and the bake had to be closed completely for five months.
But that’s all in the past. Baking has long since resumed – in line with Corona’s stringent requirements. About 50 “grandmothers and grandparents” are back there. “We handled the crisis quite well,” says Theresa Offenbeck, Cake Gossip employee. It worked because the company changed its strategy fairly quickly. When the bakery had to close, selling cake mixes in its own online store and in many stores in and around Munich helped ensure survival.
The cookie rumors did not move to the larger building until the beginning of the year, where the adventure cafe and bakery will also boost sales in the future. “We have the feeling that the demand for products that represent something social and sustainable, not just consumption, is growing rapidly,” says Offenbeck.
Double-digit growth rates
Sample sharing: While Icho and the cookie rumors have clearly suffered from Corona, the pandemic has given the Berlin startup a tailwind. The peculiarity of a company that sells a variety of products, from mineral water, to soap, to nut bars: for each product sold, the person in need receives an equivalent product or service. “On average, we’ve been able to provide assistance every second over the past year,” says founder Sebastian Stricker. These include approximately 35 million days of access to clean drinking water, 1.7 million teaching hours and 500,000 trees planted.
Even during the pandemic, Share shone with good double-digit growth rates and expanded its range from the initial 10 to a good 100. Now, Share felt-tip pens and Share glasses have also arrived. The products can be found in 16,000 stores – incl. in dm, Rewe, Rossmann and Aldi Süd – but also at Deutsche Bahn and Lufthansa. Partnerships with banks and travel agencies are under consideration.
“Corona has once again greatly strengthened the need for sustainability and responsible action in society, and we have benefited from it,” says Stricker. The startup is not in the black yet: “I think we could do it if we wanted to, but it would slow our growth – and more growth means more help.”
In fact, the pandemic doesn’t seem to be able to slow down the idea of social startups. In any case, Dirk Sander from the Duisburg Impact Factory, which is a kind of “training ground” for young social entrepreneurs, does not feel the decline in the number of candidates. On the contrary: Corona has increased the number of applications. “Society is having problems and Corona is exacerbating them. Lots of people are thinking about how to immunize society for the future, ”explains the trend.