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Resilience and Succeeding as an Entrepreneur with Bennet Barth of Respond

Christian Rebernik
Co-Founder & CEO

Based on the Chaos Theory, small changes can have a significant impact. The goal of the Butterfly Effect Studio is to uncover how leaders and change makers developed their purpose, competencies, and community to have a great positive impact. Each episode is packed full of ideas you can apply to your life.

In this conversation, Christian speaks to Bennet Barth, Managing Director of Respond. He drives the strategic development and implementation of the BMW Foundation’s work around business, innovation, and technology.

[00:00:01.060] - Christian

Welcome to the Butterfly effects studio. I'm your host, Christian Rebernik. As you know, based on the Chaos Theory small things can have a big impact. And the goal of this session is to uncover how leaders change makers, develop their purpose, their competence, and their community to have a great positive impact we have. The episode is packed full of ideas you can apply to your own life. In this conversation, I'm speaking to Bennett Bart, managing director at the response accelerator. His work is dedicated to embedding sustainability at the heart of innovation and investment. Great to have you in the studio.

 

[00:00:36.490] - Bennet

Good to be here, Christian.

 

[00:00:38.140] - Christian

Bennett, tell us a little bit more about your motivation. What has driven you in the past years? Actually? What is the root of your purpose?

 

[00:00:49.010] - Bennet

Sure. So I think I always struggle to sort of refer back to that thread in my life because I don't think I have figured it out ever so clearly what that would be. But I know for myself that my motivation very much comes from working with inspiring people and really trying to support their cause in embedding sustainability or developing new solutions that drive sustainability on our planet. And with that, I'm focusing when I say sustainability, I'm not only focusing on the environmental components, but I also believe that also on the social and cultural side of things or societal side of things, we need to have an understanding of what sustainability is and how to get there eventually.

 

[00:01:42.710] - Christian

Looking back on your achievements, what are you most proud of?

 

[00:01:47.890] - Bennet

Well, there is a number of things. To be honest, I would say one of the most amazing times in my professional career was actually right out of the gates of University when I started at a small startup at the time in Portugal where I chose to live and study. The company was called Maze, and it was very much one of the pioneers in the social innovation space in Europe and particularly also in Portugal. And one of the things we did with Maze was to put together an impact venture capital firm that went on to raise by now almost €60 million in venture capital money from different LPs, both private investors, and high network individuals, but also institutional investors such as European investment funds. And for me, coming right out of University, going through the journey of putting together the value proposition for a venture capital fund, going through the fundraising process and digging into the very first deals and the diligence that we did at the time was, I think, one of the most amazing experiences. And then also carrying those experiences and those insights onwards into the next steps in my career.

 

[00:03:11.380] - Bennet

I think my focus has sharpened into working with entrepreneurs and supporting them through capital or through network or capacity building modules, sessions, and really helping them succeed on their impact mission.

 

[00:03:30.000] - Christian

Why has your focus shifted to entrepreneurs?

 

[00:03:36.490] - Bennet

Well, I think about my background and my family. I come from a very entrepreneurial mindset. My dad used to be an entrepreneur in the real estate business and he actually was a very successful entrepreneur by being a very social entrepreneur. What he focused on in his real estate work was actually a lot of social housing projects, for example, or just in general very friendly and very humane terms in which he would handle those advanced apartments, tenants, and just overall project development in itself. And by being very socially minded and a very fair real estate owner, if you will, he also managed to be exceptionally successful. So he had a very good reputation. Both the city government as well as property owners were very happy to work with my dad for this reason. So I think my ingrained ways of working or my ingrained motivation really comes from the social entrepreneurial side of things. Then during my studies, I also peered into development cooperation, for example, as a way to improve living conditions across the globe. But I also noticed that probably working with government or government agencies doesn't really match my temper or the pace that I like to work and like to work with.

 

[00:05:18.820] - Bennet

Hence this shift to again, this shift to the entrepreneurship world is where the energy sort of gets to me.

 

[00:05:27.960] - Christian

So that's totally relatable to me. I think the interactivity on the interaction, how you can actually pursue this kind of impact you have, is high, dynamic. But you talk already about the competence you admire in your father but also about social entrepreneurship and the relevant skills there. Let's talk a little bit more about that. What do you think are the important competencies actually to be a successful entrepreneur, to actually have a positive impact from your perspective, maybe from your own level has helped you the most?

 

[00:06:02.210] - Bennet

I love the question Christian, and I think it is one that needs a twofold answer because I think the skills that you need to be a successful entrepreneur are very different from the skills that you need to be a successful impact entrepreneur. And the reason why I'm saying this is because I believe that the ecosystem, the environment that we operate in still very much values, a sort of traditional framing, a traditional understanding of what success in entrepreneurship is. And if you look around with the latest news around Adam Newman for example, and how he got funding for his new venture, etc., I think this just goes to underlying the fact that there are different definitions of success out there. So answering the first part of the question, to be a successful entrepreneur, I think you need an incredible amount of drive, you need an incredible amount of willingness to fail and learn and to move beyond failure and literally learn from it and implement the learnings it's very fast. And eventually, I also think you need to feel when it's the right time for you as an entrepreneur to delegate some of the things that you start working on as a small founding team.

 

[00:07:30.660] - Bennet

You need to hit the switch. But when is the right time to let go of certain things and bring on new people that are actually smarter than you. Moving beyond your ego is actually one of the challenges that come up along the way. And there is actually tons of research also about what makes a great entrepreneur, etc.. But there isn't so much research about what makes a great impact entrepreneur. And I think here because it is a fairly emergeing space still, the definitions or the requirements or success factors of a successful impact entrepreneur still kind of murky and more anecdotal perhaps than in the space of traditional entrepreneurship. From my point of view, one of the core competencies or core skills of an impact entrepreneur is the way we think about systems. Now, traditionally we come from a very mechanistic simplistic kind of worldview. A triggers b triggers C, etc.. And for successful impact entrepreneurs. The ability to understand systems as a complex and even living dynamic sort of structure where you need to look far beyond the immediate repercussions of your action into different shareholder groups or different stakeholder groups or different communities or along the entire process of the value chain of the product that you're producing.

 

[00:09:08.050] - Bennet

For example. It is seeing and acting upon those kinds of interconnectednesses in between, if you will, to really be able to make sure that the impact that you're intending to have is actually going to happen in the way that you want it. So literally embracing the complexity of systems I think is a core competence and of course, this is hard and of course, this makes it more difficult to understand what is actually happening or to understand how your supply chain will actually play out in your business, etc. And the second skill that I would say is key for impact entrepreneurs is to be okay with that complexity and to be okay to be living in an environment of volatility, ambiguity, uncertainty, etc. And coming up with a mindset that is able to cope with those challenges and complexities is at the end of the day, a difficult task. So if you look around in the entrepreneurship space, especially in bigger entrepreneurs, they're incredibly at risk of mental health stresses and struggles because of that ambiguity and because of that volatility. And coming up with the notion of resilience as an interconnect and dealing with that resilience is not in the form of resistance but really embracing it I think is, at least from my point of view, the second core competence of impact entrepreneurs.

 

[00:11:03.490] - Chrisitan 

Thank you very much. I think that's very interesting, actually putting those two things actually there are different skills that especially sounds like more demanding being an impact entrepreneurs. Would be giving an example of great impact entrepreneurs?

 

[00:11:26.140] - Bennet

I mean, there are so many great entrepreneurs out there that are doing amazing things. And one of the businesses I personally like a lot, for example, and I use actually every day, is Tomorrow Bank. The name is actually very similar to you guys. Tomorrow Bank just enables sustainable banking or sustainable use of your savings and bank accounts. And what I like about them is just how explicit they also are besides having a great product. How explicit they are in communicating about the things they do, in talking about the company culture that they've built with just a new understanding, and embracing the complexity of the new work age and allowing for more flexibility for their staff to take days off. They mentally don't feel ready for it or for other reasons. They need time. It's just a company built around people. And that I think, is what excites me a lot about Tomorrow Bank. Now, through my work now at the Response Program, I get to work every year with ten entrepreneurs from across the globe. This year we have startups literally from Chile all the way to Hong Kong that join the accelerator program. And I mean, obviously, by nature of this election process, I'm a big fan of all of these startups and I totally root for them and their success in the future.

 

[00:13:02.340] - Bennet

But the beauty for me in working with the entrepreneurs is really that throughout the program, over the six months that we work with the entrepreneurs, we place a very strong focus on leadership development. And this touches exactly upon what we've discussed earlier, developing the skill sets to navigate this uncertainty and to embrace to find sources of energy for the entrepreneurs to come up with that resilience that is needed for them to build their businesses. So this is the journey, the time on and it's been incredibly rewarding in that sense.

 

[00:13:44.140] - Chrisitan 

That's an amazing point. And you mentioned you're a fan of those ten startups, which I totally relate to, but how do you select them or differently, how do you select the people, the founders behind there? What are you looking and actually what kind of founder competencies, mindset are you looking for?

 

[00:14:02.310] - Bennet

Yeah, it's a great question because the selection process tries to accomplish both for us. So typically we get to see, we scout, actively scout around 1.5 to 2.000 startups every year across the globe, of which we receive on average, I would say around 500 applications. And in the end, ten startups make it to the program. So you can already see it's a highly, highly selective process that the entrepreneurs go through in applying for the Response Program. And in that process, we do two things. We look at the impact potential and how it's coupled with a business model. So we would try to understand where every applying started and what is the problem they're trying to address. What are the communities stakeholders involved in the problem framing? And critically, of course, how is the proposed solution going to address these challenges. Now, given that Respond is embedded by BMW Foundation and it's carried by philanthropic money, we also have the flexibility to work with solutions that are not straightforward venture capital cases like other accelerator programs would do. But we actually have the freedom to also work with nonprofit organizations or with perhaps impact business models that just foreseebly take longer to scale.

 

[00:15:34.540] - Bennet

And this, at the end of the day means that our set of criteria is not a rigidly fixed list of things that we need to check off. But it's a case-by-case analysis where, as I mentioned, the first element would be what is the impact and business case to it? And the second element for us is obviously, as you're saying, is there a founder fit to what we are going to provide in the accelerator program? So, as I mentioned, Accelerates is very much geared toward leadership development topics. Things we talk about, for example, are mental health for entrepreneurs. We talk about building teams, we talk about organizational structures, and governance that may be different from the conventional models.

 

[00:16:24.600] - Christian

So how much do they need to have developed their drive, their innovation capabilities, and systemic thinking? And how do you assess that as well? If you say that's relevant, do you assess it actually? Is this something you try to figure out?

 

[00:16:44.960] - Bennet

It's definitely something we try to figure out. I wouldn't go as far as saying we have completely solved how to really measure for it and screen for it properly. But there are things in questions that we ask, such as questions about the startups or the company's diversity, equity, and inclusion policies. And from reading just a few sentences about it from the entrepreneurs, you get a pretty good sense of whether or not this is something that has crossed their mind, whether or not this is something that they would like to work on. If there are questions related to it, they think they solved it. At the end of the day, I think the tone of voice, of the entrepreneur, reading through the application form, then on the phone call with the entrepreneurs, you get to sense how much of their motivation is driven by being part of an accelerator program that comes with a strong brand and a strong backlink versus how much of the motivation comes from being keen to work on those challenges. And to answer your other question, if this is a prerequisite into the program, I would say no, simply forthe fact that we also don't know all the answers.

 

[00:18:06.630] - Bennet

There is no starting and no end point to build your resilience if you will. But what we do want to see is, as I mentioned the drive and the interest to be working on those topics and engaging in leadership development and understanding. I believe that working on leadership is arguably one of the key drivers of success in this service.

 

[00:18:31.610] - Christian

Okay, amazing. Thank you. So one of the things, what you say, is it's really important that they have the right purpose about motivation, which they bring in, and then as well, that they have the curiosity to actually learn and embrace what is happening. And if you look to the people, actually, you personally surround yourself with maybe in the team, what would you say is for you, the most important, actually, skills you're looking for there?

 

[00:19:06.260] - Bennet

It's a great question. So overall, in my team, I try to put a lot of emphasis on just a good and friendly climate among us. So this comes with a lot of openness, being willing, and being able to articulate worries or feelings or situations from your private life, for example, where they could play a role in your day-to-day work, your exit work. So just being open and mindful of those kinds of feelings or situations in the work environment is something that I highly value in our team and I would like to encourage going forward with new team members, which I think, at the end of the day, is very much a mindset thing. It's not necessarily a skill set. When it comes to skill sets, the things that we working with entrepreneurs and very much working in a sort of emergent space. Overall, I think all of us on the team need to bring this entrepreneurial creativity and drive ourselves to the tables. I'm incredibly happy to be working with folks on my team that are all keen to build new things and try out new stuff and that are not afraid of trying things, learning from them, and then iterating in the next step.

 

[00:20:45.260] - Bennet

And obviously, again, being backed, we are able to go a little bit wild, probably wild. The standard for-profit organizations with investors, etc., would be able to do it is exactly the sort of playful, openness, and curiosity that definitely, I think, needs to be a core element of our work and our people.

 

[00:21:15.860] - Christian

Sounds really great, especially, I think, the divide. That's how I describe it, it's a more innovative environment for that purpose and therefore increases the chances of actually creating something outstanding and talking a little bit more about who are you actually building up in your community, who are the people who helped you and your career actually the most? Who are the people you're relying on?

 

[00:21:44.960] - Bennet

Sure, as I said, I think the very entrepreneurial father, first of all, as a starting point in my career. And I still go back to my dad to discuss work-related things and brainstorm about the next steps or talk about ideas. And he actually challenges me a lot because he's been one of the demonstrators in front of the nuclear power plants in Germany and sort of blocking the railways and cargo transports, etc. He's been on the activist side of things and now still engages in politics and he actually likes to challenge me the most, whether or not the impact that I have in the entrepreneurship space is really where the change is going to happen or whether it's going to come from the political side of things. And actually I like those discussions and I like that challenging because it really brings you back to the question where do you achieve the most impact possible with the time you have? I just love the setting because it gets your priorities back in order, it gets your focus back in order and it just helps you concentrate on the things that really are basic.

 

[00:23:11.440] - Chrisitan 

I love this. I think you need to have somebody who is challenging us on our purpose. Are we doing enough, are we consistent with our purpose? Actually motivation. That's exciting, I think to have somebody like that actually on your side absolutely challenging you.

 

[00:23:30.110] - Bennet

Absolutely. And he is relentless. He would never stop.

 

[00:23:38.360] - Christian 

And let's take it the other way around. Who do you think you have helped, had the chance to help most? In what way?

 

[00:23:47.960] - Bennet

That's a great question. I consider myself very much on the leadership journey myself. Right. A lot of those leadership things that we talk about, I would consider myself being far away from having solved all of this, having implemented everything perfectly. Now the entire accelerator program really is built around a very personal relationship. So I would say the key priority for me, even in the accelerator program is that after those six months of acceleration we walk away with, of course, ventures that are better place to scale and are more equipped to grow all of this. But we also walk away with a sense of community and a sense of supporting community. So actually a lot of time in the accelerator program is just spent around building the social tissue between the entrepreneurs in the program and also, of course us as a team. And I would hope that through some of those friendships now that happen and some of those sparing sessions and discussion, I would have been able to add here and there to some of the entrepreneurs that we've been working with and obviously also to my team. As much as I can, I try to make myself obsolete, if you will.

 

[00:25:21.040] - Bennet

I am always driven by empowering my team to do the job better than I would do it. And I guess it comes with a few tough conversations, it comes with a bit of cold water here and there, but it's definitely what I strive for and I hope in the best way possible and that I can to provide a growth environment for the people that I work with on their journeys.

 

[00:25:50.820] - Christian

Yeah, amazing. Yeah. So you help your team to outgrow themselves, which is, I think, really important on all of us, I think, to be actually have people who are supporting us. If you're looking back maybe one step to when you started to study school, eventually, if you look back, what advice would you give yourself to your younger self today?

 

[00:26:22.310] - Bennet

Oh, my God. Don't worry. After school, I really had no idea what I wanted to do whatsoever. And eventually I ended up talking to different I don't know how you call them, almost like a career advisor for your next steps, university degrees, etc. And I went there, and the feedback was, I should study medicine. I should become a doctor. It's like no. The only takeaway I had from this was that it was totally not me being a doctor because, I don't know, it never really resonated. And I couldn't even tell you why exactly, but it never resonated, and it still doesn't. But what came out of the conversation was that my sort of numerical mindset, analytical mindset, was very, very strong. And that led me to eventually studying engineering. But actually, for engineering, the same thing happened. I was like, no, I don't want to be an engineer. So I felt like I needed to mix it up a little bit and ended up studying engineering and management at the same time, which now, looking back, I think was a great groundwork basis for everything that happened afterwards. But still, engineering in itself, or engineering and management in itself isn't something that has resonated with me at the time.

 

[00:28:06.560] - Bennet

So I ended up really, during my degree to do a bunch of different things and explore different modules in that class. In the end of my bachelor's degree, for whatever reason, I had sort of an overweight into economics courses that I took voluntarily on the side. And I had a thing for just working through economics and doing the math behind it, etc. So in my master's program, I decided to really focus on economics and decided to do that not at a university  but I decided to go to Portugal because there is a business school that teaches economics in a very applied kind of thing, does a lot of working with numbers, statistics, formulas, excel tools and all of that to really give the supply chains of economics versus a more philosophical side of economics that is part of many of the university degrees in Germany. So I think this applied kind of mindset to things really helped me in my master's program to understand that building things and building models, rather than just studying theories. Doing it yourself kind of was, I think, a very empowering moment in my entrepreneurial drive and energy, because for the first time was moving away from calculating how an existing engine would work or moving away from studying a theory that some guy a thousand years ago about into sort of coming up with your own views, if you will.

 

[00:30:15.190] - Chrisitan 

So it was really something you figured out just by exploring and testing it, what resonates and then deepening your interest. Literally, very resonated, very intuitive.

 

[00:30:31.310] - Bennet

Looking back at my studies, I think I never had the feeling of this is the perfect next step, this is what I'm going to do, because it makes so much sense now looking back, I think it's more evidence that a lot of it has been guided by exploration and intuition and it worked out very well, luckily. But at no point really in my studies did I have a feeling of oh wow, this is not the right thing to do because I really felt it. And this is also why I'm so excited to see sort of new concepts around learning and studying to come up now in this world. Because I think some of the things are not made for everyone. We need to cater to different personalities and different mindsets, to different challenges in the world, frankly, nowadays, a couple of years ago. So we need to rethink our learning, how we study.

 

[00:31:33.860] - Christian

Yeah, absolutely. And I think what you mentioned with applied learning is something where you don't just in theory work something out, but actually see over how this may apply is one of the key things, I think, to have this kind of satisfaction and see what it actually does. We have students in bachelor programs and master programs, interdisciplinary learning on real-world challenges. They all come in with a purpose, they figure it out. And I think purpose is nothing you just set in stone and then you literally follow it for your whole life. But something you're iterating also on. It's not just how you get there, but really also what you're actually pursuing is something you learned. Is there any advice you would like to give them? Anything? Say, hey, this is something you should consider maybe talking about the mindset. You mention a lot of things actually for impact entrepreneurs which are irrelevant. 

 

[00:32:36.490] - Bennet

It's a good question. I don't think there is much advice that I would be able to give around finding your purpose. But what I would say is that just as yours and then it is nothing you said and just don't the decisions you take today and may seem huge and large, but a few weeks, a few months, a few years in, there's new crossroads and new pathways to go. So my advice would be again, not worry too much, but follow the intuition, the intuition that you have and acknowledge that a lot of this is work in progress and it will always be. Your environment will change, you will change, your values will change, the things that are important in your life will change and with it your purpose. It is totally fine to understand purpose as a snapshot, as a point in time and no need to worry to find something that is going to stick with you for the rest of your life.

 

[00:33:48.410] - Christian

I think what you say is not worrying, but I think this process of self reflection listen to your own feelings, I think it's very important and I would even say there's a competence which is eventually required nowadays. As you, I think described, you sound like you're very selffulfilled and I think this is what it becomes. And by this kind of selffulfilled I think you're becoming also more impactful as a logical consequence of that. Yes, and maybe one more word because you mentioned also there is topic resilience as a more important scale, I think coming up because of the complexity and you mentioned this kind of environment we're in. What's your thought? And you mentioned you're also helping leaders to become more resilient. Maybe you can give us more to reapply any practice for yourself to be resilient?

 

[00:34:47.440] - Bennet

Yes, I do. The answer is yes. And there is also a great research actually done by an organization called the Resilience Institute based in Switzerland that do quantitative analysis over what resilience actually means in the digital positions and part of their research or their findings is obviously it's probably no surprise that your habits play a huge role in your resilience. And let me see if I can remember all of them. I'm sure I'll find a few of them I remember the most important driver of stress and anxiety as the opposite to resilience is how you engage with screens, namely your computer or your phone in the 60 minutes before you go to sleep. What they find is that the melatonin level so the hormone that basically puts you to sleep, it's a very deep sleep, it never reaches the full scale of what it should reach and it takes in way later into the night if you use a screen and phones are the worst, really super close to your face. If you use a screen in 60 minutes before you go to sleep, if you compare it to the control group that uses no screens in that time, you can actually see that the melatonin level kicks in way earlier and way higher, which puts him to sleep in a more relaxed recharging state and actually in less amount of hours slept.

 

[00:36:26.140] - Bennet

Those people would feel more recharged and more energized the next day. And this I think looking at my habits, looking at my friend's habits for example, I am convinced that this is a super powerful driver for all of us to bring down our stress levels and really rethink the way you engage with your phone. And there are other examples, other drivers and resilience values such as how well you're able to integrate recharging elements in your day to day, such as sports for example. There are things around how do you react in situations where you can feel your emotions and your anger or your stress literally boiling up to a point where you're. Moving into panic mode. How well are you able to rebound from this? Is it true? Some breathing exercises or whatnot? So it's comparatively minor details and minor things that you can learn, really research on the web, learn and embed in your day to day without making major changes that will drive your resilience levels.

 

[00:37:41.510] - Christian

Very nice. I love that. It's a very concrete thing. Take away. Actually, I think we can easily do it's. Not that it sounds like something really complex, but starting to put your phone away or you're turning off your computer in time before you go to bed. I think it's a very important part. But also what you mentioned, I think it's really important the habits you're building up if you're not doing consciously but actually just automatically can help you become more resilient. Thank you so much for all these questions and address. You're good here now. I'm really excited. It's really helpful for future change makers, future leaders who want to become entrepreneurs, creators, shapers of venture, new companies but also of just projects or movements. Thank you for being with us. And yes, thank you very much.

 

[00:38:37.900] - Bennet

Thanks for having me. Christian.

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Christian Rebernik
Co-Founder & CEO

Create a Better Tomorrow

Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences students

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