We talked to Christian Busch of German Accelerator about empowering startups to scale globally, and this is what he had to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Christian Busch: We are doing well given the circumstances. We live in New York usually but currently are in Spain, and I enjoy the fact that we live in a connected world and can work seamlessly across time zones.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined German Accelerator.
Christian Busch: I started my career working for a large media company called Bertelsmann, and they enabled me to move to the United States. I spent around five years there and then went to work for two startups after that.
We then sold the second startup to a media company that was called Alloy Media & Marketing at the time. That ended up being a great development for me, as I was able to run the digital business for the company. A few years later, I started running the Mergers & Acquisitions team and was responsible for buying and selling some companies for them, really doing everything you can do in corporate development. I personally found it to be a really fun job that I enjoyed doing.
I stayed for a couple of years, and then I went and set up my own little business, doing advisory work with various companies. This included the crowd-funding company Indiegogo, eBay, Teachers Pay Teachers, The New York Times, and others. I have essentially been doing work like that ever since. I have also started another company that is focused on the real-estate space.
Apart from my own businesses, I am currently also running the U.S. part of the German Accelerator. The German Accelerator is a program financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to support German startups entering the United States and Asia. In addition to this, I am the co-founder of another accelerator called Ellis Accelerator, which is working with non-German startups who want to expand into the United States.
How does German Accelerator innovate?
Christian Busch: German Accelerator works with innovative startups every day. So innovation is their business and our business. We learn a lot from working with really cutting edge startups ourselves. We also are pushing ourselves to innovate in the areas we are in. Because we work mostly with technology and high-growth consumer companies, we need to be on top of the trends that are going on. For example, these days, people are excited about Machine Learning, Cryptocurrencies, and Clean Tech, so we need to make sure we at least have a decent understanding of these areas in order to have an eye-level conversation with the companies in our program. In a way, we are an innovation company ourselves because our product really is a market entry for the United States, for startups that are constantly innovating.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Christian Busch: We have been fortunate in the sense that we have had a strong backer in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. They have continued to back the program as it has gone virtual over the past year, and since we already had a lot of experience in working together remotely as a global German Accelerator team, we were able to set up a fully virtual program for our startups within just two weeks. So in that sense, the pandemic has not had an impact on our funding. It has certainly had an impact on the way we work with the companies. A lot of the magic of the programs we run is in being in NYC or Silicon Valley or on the ground in Singapore or India and meeting people in person. Obviously, that is not happening right now, so that has been difficult for us. We hope that, once the vaccine has progressed, we can go back to providing that on the ground experience in person.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Christian Busch: I wouldn’t say we have had to make difficult choices, but we have definitely noticed that some people were more ready for the remote world work than other people. Our team has evolved based on that. Some people are just naturally better in person and maybe struggle more with the more asynchronous, more video call based world. So that’s something we have really learned over time. Something more difficult has been hiring. It is difficult to hire people that you have not met in person.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Christian Busch: We use Salesforce, and we are constantly working on improving our usage of Salesforce. CRM is very important, and we keep training our team to ensure we get the most out of it, but as we all know, it is not the easiest job.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Christian Busch: Not particularly, but overall we are financed by the Federal Ministry, as explained. The German Accelerator programs are free of cost for the German startups, though, apart from a small admin fee, we charge for our Asian discovery program “Next Step.”
Your final thoughts?
Christian Busch: One thing we noticed, although the world seems to be getting more difficult in terms of traveling and going to new places, the interest in expanding businesses abroad is unabated, in other words, as strong as ever before. We also expect there to be an incredibly strong demand once people can travel again, and we cannot wait to welcome our next classes – virtually for now and hopefully on the ground again, soon.