Two of the graduates of our Executive MBA have decided to become founders: As ELDERTECH, André Fiebig and Artur Janiszek will offer digital solutions for caring relatives in the future – we don’t want to anticipate too much and instead let the two speak for themselves. On January 14, 2021, starting at 4 pm, you will have the opportunity to experience ELDERTECH and other startups at the DemoDay of DigitalHUB Aachen e.V.. The event marks the end of the fourth round of the DigitalHUB Incubator, which not only offers participating startups exciting coaching and training, but also provides valuable contacts.
Please introduce yourselves briefly – who are you and what brought you together as founders?
André Fiebig: My name is André Fiebig, 35 years old and an engineer by professional background. Artur and I met in 2018 in the Executive MBA program at RWTH Business School and quickly realized that we have similar approaches and quality standards on many topics.
Artur Janiszek: I’m Artur Janiszek, 32 years old and therefore a bit younger than my esteemed co-founder. In the past – before the MBA – I was involved in visual communication, marketing and management consulting. At the end of our studies the master’s thesis showed that André and I can work well together even over a longer period of time and under pressure. Despite – or perhaps because of – our completely different (academic) backgrounds, we are able to complement each other on many issues.
André Fiebig & Artur Janiszek, founders of ELDERTECH (fltr)
What is the idea behind ELDERTECH and what is special about your startup?
André Fiebig: According to current estimates, there are about 3 million people who care for and look after a relative in addition to their professional activities. They form the largest care service in Germany, so to speak – and it is assumed that the “unreported number” is much larger. With our startup ELDERTECH, we want to create relief for all these caring relatives by bringing together the big world of smart home and smart home care devices with age-appropriate video communication on an innovative platform.
Artur Janiszek: Existing solutions on the market usually only complement the everyday life of those receiving care in isolation by offering a solution for a specific care case, but do not offer an interface to neighboring systems. This leads to functional and organizational redundancies for caregivers and care recipients – because we know that care is much more than concrete support. This is exactly where we want to start.
André Fiebig: Intuition and usability are our highest premises. We know that our platform will not be successful if it is not equally accepted by care recipients, caregivers, and partners. Through a whole series of discussions and the continuous support of experts from the care and health sectors, we hope to find the right path.
How and when did the idea come about and how did you know it was worth pursuing?
Artur Janiszek: The idea came from personal involvement. In 2017, someone in my family was diagnosed with dementia, which prompted me to set out for the first time and look for really useful aids for everyday life, that support the person being cared for in their independence and offer added value for caregivers. In the end, unfortunately, only the archaic technology of home emergency call systems has proven itself on the market. However, the assumption of (sometimes horrendous) costs by health and long-term care insurers for outdated systems and care aids, which prolong the phase of outpatient care, prevents the economic pressure on manufacturers to innovate in a free market.
André Fiebig: Artur and I exchanged some potential startup ideas during our studies, some of which we refined into concepts using the methods from the Executive MBA – ELDERTECH is one of them, which we have been developing beyond the concept phase since spring (before Corona!).
If you look at the lack of pressure to innovate, the demographic change, and analogously the speed of adaptation of our health and care system very soberly, it quickly becomes clear that something has to change. We see the opportunity to create real added value with ELDERTECH – for society, for patients, and caregivers.
Was the outbreak of the pandemic an opportunity or an obstacle for you?
Artur Janiszek: The global pandemic has brought about changes in many places that would have been inconceivable before in terms of their intensity or speed of transformation – in people’s everyday lives, in the professional context, and also in society in general. Although the decision in favor of ELDERTECH was already made before the first Covid-19 cases became known in Europe, the situation has shown many people the limits of social interaction – suddenly, visiting relatives in person was often no longer possible – not even “just to check on grandma”. And this is exactly where ELDERTECH comes in: We enable family caregivers to take care from a distance. The pandemic not only specified this pain but much more created acceptance for digital solutions for all participants – and thus paved part of the way for us.
André Fiebig: Exactly. First and foremost, we see the pandemic, despite all the negative consequences for society and every individual who is affected by it in terms of health or economics, as an opportunity, because now the issues surrounding digitization are being discussed and driven forward much more.
What are your biggest challenges at the moment?
Artur Janiszek: As a team, we have set ourselves a very ambitious timeline. So far, we’ve been able to stay on course – even though this leads to working night shifts and weekends from time to time. But since we all believe in the joint success of our project, these phases might be exhausting, but are also incredibly motivating! In addition, we do not work alone for ourselves but are partly dependent on feedback. So another challenge is the reliability, commitment, and communication from others – something we had to realize early on.
André Fiebig: Keyword ‘partner’: Our ELDERTECH solution is based on creating a platform. This means that we don’t have to serve customers like in a linear business model but instead must create attractiveness for users, customers, and partners through the versatility of a platform. The search for partners is currently our biggest challenge.
Artur Janiszek & André Fiebig at the Executive MBA Alumni Event 2018
What’s next for you or rather what are your next steps?
Artur Janiszek: Strategically we are currently working very actively on the final definition of our concept and business model. With the support of RWTH Innovation, we will submit the application for the ‘EXIST Business Start-up Grant’ at the beginning of 2021. The tools that we were able to learn or refine through our MBA are a real added value here, as they form structural guardrails; similar to a common language that not only we, but also startup coaches, corporates, and investors speak.
André Fiebig: Due to our team structure, we are in the fortunate position of being able to continue the development of the app and the platform parallel to the EXIST application, in order to be able to drive the closed beta with our partners, experts, and first customers in a timely manner. In the best-case scenario, this will enable us to reach full market maturity by April 2021.
To what extent was the Executive MBA beneficial for the startup?
André Fiebig: The Executive MBA opened doors in many places – personally, methodically, or in the network. Of course, the EMBA is also about knowledge transfer, as well as appropriate tools and methods. The direct contact and exchange with top-class lecturers are essential for the success of the EMBA. Usually, as a student, you rarely experience such intensive involvement – regardless of whether it is innovation management (Prof. Piller), strategy (Prof. Salge), business model innovation (Prof. Antons & Dr. Lüttgens), or entrepreneurship (Prof. Brettel). I can personally say that the EMBA has broadened my horizons and has also made me want to be active as a founder and not just have ideas.
Artur Janiszek: I would totally agree with that. The Executive MBA changes the personal mindset in terms of thinking in business models and strategically aligning innovation. Another effect that has already helped us a few times now is the strong network within our own cohort, but also with alumni and alumnae of the past fifteen cohorts. In some cases, conversations with people you only met briefly at an event went as if you had known each other for years – thanks to the EMBA.
Would you recommend the Aachen region for startups and if so, why?
Artur Janiszek: As a founder, you will find an almost perfect ecosystem in Aachen. For startups with a digital background, there is the digitalHUB Aachen. e.V. with super-motivated coaches and connections to medium-sized businesses in what is probably the most beautiful co-working space in Germany. For startups from RWTH, the RWTH Innovation supports you with knowledge and a great network to investors and business angels. If you still have doubts about your startup idea or are simply not sure whether founding is really the right thing to do, then events organized by AC.E Aachener Entrepreneurship Team or the Collective Incubator are worth a lot, because here you can experience real founding spirit.
As a true “Öcher” (Aachener), I am certainly not objective at this point!
André Fiebig: In times of home offices and remote workplaces, the choice of location is perhaps of secondary importance. For our team, however, it was quickly decided that our foundation should also take place here. I got to know Aachen through my EMBA studies and experienced a close bond between the city and RWTH Aachen University. Our university network at RWTH and the support we received is just one of the reasons that make Aachen a “place-to-be” for founders. As far as size is concerned, Aachen is just right: Not too small, so that you could run up against infrastructure and funding limits; not too big, so that you can find short distances and quick contact to the right people.
Artur Janiszek: Not to forget, of course, the internationality that is lived out here. I can’t think of any place in Europe where cross-border living and working is so “normal”. With Maastricht, Liège, and Eupen, we are surrounded by inspiring twin cities with many young people, innovative strength, and a spirit of entrepreneurship.
Congratulations at this point on being accepted into the fourth batch of the digitalHUB Aachen Incubator Program. What support can you expect here?
André Fiebig: Thank you very much! In addition to intensive coaching with experts from various fields as well as matchmaking and pitch training, we can expect a boost for the maturity of our business model: Through structured development of various topics – coordinated with the content of the Ideation Program at RWTH Innovation – we get open issues solved systematically and scalably and set the course for the future direction of the company.
Artur Janiszek: The Incubator Program of digitalHUB Aachen is also very valuable for young startups because of the media coverage you get – far beyond the borders of the Aachen region!
What tips would you give to (aspiring) founders?
Artur Janiszek: Talk to others, pitch your idea, exchange ideas – regardless of whether it’s with your team, with potential customers, with experts, in founder groups, or even with people who have nothing to do with your startup idea. Why? The impressions and opinions are worth their weight in gold because they enable you to further refine your idea (and/or your concept). The feeling that an interlocutor might “fly the coop” with your idea and implement it themselves is understandable and was also an underlying thought for me in the early conversations, that I had to learn to put aside. Just keep in mind that an idea alone is worth nothing as long as it has not been implemented – and at the time of an exchange with others you are directly one step closer to an implementation.
(Every day is a hope for tomorrow and nobody knows what will happen tomorrow).
André Fiebig: Look for co-founders, like-minded people or a team. You gain an incredible amount of flexibility and speed through task sharing – but it is much more important that each person has different competencies and topics in which he or she is an expert, and with which he or she likes to deal. It’s not for nothing that interdisciplinary, diverse teams are the most successful startup stories!
Artur Janiszek: We are, of course, at the beginning of an exciting journey. Whether our experiences as founders prove to be correct, remains to be seen.
Thank you very much for the interview and good luck for the future!
Becoming a founder with the Executive MBA? Here you can find more information about our part-time program.