Promoting an entrepreneurial spirit in emerging countries
Three questions addressed to ...
Michael Mronz, Chairman of the Board of Westerwelle Foundation
The Westerwelle Foundation was founded in December 2013 by the late Free Democratic Party (FDP) politician and former German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, together with Internet entrepreneur Ralph Dommermuth. At the centre of its activities is the middle class business as a social and economic model for development. With its projects – the Young Founders Programme and the Westerwelle Start-up Houses – the foundation aims to create opportunities for young people in emerging and developing countries.
Mr. Mronz, you have been running the Westerwelle Young Founders Programme with the Westerwelle Foundation since 2016. What does this programme do for young entrepreneurs and can it be improved in any way?
Guido's original idea was to grow the successful model of German mid-tier businesses in other regions of the world, especially in emerging markets. For me, the term “mid tier” represents more than just an economic category. Mid-tier is a model of society that brings about advancement, but also political stability. The way there leads through as many – and as successful – start-up and business ideas as possible.
This is exactly where we work with the Westerwelle Young Founders Programme. We support young founders from emerging and developing countries who have already achieved initial success, have successfully tested their business model in the market and are now ready for the next step. We know that outstanding ideas, even a good business idea and a committed team, are often not enough to prove themselves in the long term. This is why we want to train the founders in our programme and to open up global networks for them. In concrete terms this means, for example, that we put our fellows in touch with experienced entrepreneurs, who act as mentors for a year. We also invite them to the Westerwelle Young Founders Conference in Berlin, where they can participate in workshops and training sessions, and interact with investors. In the conference they are able to receive a lot of input on central entrepreneurial skills and also to make contact with like-minded people.
We have repeatedly received feedback that this exchange with other founders from all over the world is something very special for young people, so we are currently expanding the peer mentoring in the programme. This is about sharing know-how even more and thus helping founders to master challenges. And because the demand for the programme is enormous, we will double the budget for it in the coming year – supporting 50 young people each year.
In 2018, you will open a business start-up centre in Rwanda. What are you going to do to create perspectives for young people in the east African country?
For several years there has been an exciting start-up scene in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in which young people in particular have been involved. We want to promote this entrepreneurial spirit in order to support the economic development of the country and create more opportunities for people. This is also in line with Guido’s idea of strengthening democracy through our work as a foundation.
In our Westerwelle start-up house, young founders can therefore not only work in a coworking space: they will also be able to attend workshops on financial management or marketing, discuss legal issues with a lawyer, or consult an accounting expert. The Westerwelle start-up house will thus become the central contact point for young entrepreneurs, complementing and supporting the local structures. This will serve as a model for other start-up houses.
What role does digitisation play in your foundation's work?
Digitisation is rapidly changing people's everyday lives and is at the same time creating new business models – not only in Germany, but also in developing and emerging countries. Through globalisation, new technologies are arriving more quickly in these regions. This makes it possible to develop innovative solutions for decades-long challenges with the help of smartphones and the Internet.
We support start-ups that use these opportunities of digitisation to drive innovation in their home countries. This year's Westerwelle Young Founders Programme, for example, features outstanding agritech entrepreneurs who use software and apps to increase yields in agriculture and open up new markets. We see great potential for innovation in such areas.