HHL Alumni are Building Platform for Carbon Management
Switching Sides: From Venture Capital to Entrepreneurship
This interview was first published in July 2020.
Helen Tacke is a former Venture Capitalist (VC) who has taken the leap into entrepreneurship and is now building a digital B2B platform for carbon management with her partner and HHL alumnus Fabian Schwarzer. Before starting her entrepreneurial journey, Helen worked in different VC companies providing financial funding for startups. We talked to full-time Master of Management alumna Helen about making the career switch from being the giver to becoming the creator.
Starting first with some helpful tips: What advice do you have for graduates thinking of starting their own business?
If you want to gather experience in an employer-employee relationship – do it now rather than later. Having now crossed over to the entrepreneurial side, I cannot imagine going back to being employed. Don’t get confused by the saying “Do not start a business just for the sake of starting a business.”. I believe that this is a flawed notion. It is not so much about the idea, but rather about the unrestrained will to succeed and the right execution.
What to do if you don’t have any good business ideas? Don’t worry. These are my personal tips for you:
Go to an inspiring place where you can settle down for a while and focus on yourself.
You just recently decided to start your own entrepreneurial journey. Tell us about your start-up and why you decided to leave your corporate life.
A strong driver for looking more into what I am doing now is very well reflected in the statement by a researcher at the World Health Organization (WHO), who pointed out that the biggest health threat of the century is not Corona, but climate change. We know that companies have the necessary leverage and need to truly make this change in the climate crisis. This can be seen in the 76% of Millennials who consider the company’s environmental commitments when deciding where to work.
We are building a digital solution for companies to manage the entire process of their carbon footprint – we call it a Carbon Action Platform.
It is also apparent in the 50% of global asset owners who are currently implementing strict ESG criteria in their allocation of funds. Further, one can see it when looking at drivers of consumer purchase decision-making, where the majority of consumers look for information on a product footprint which has a significant impact on their purchase decision.
Thus, companies need to act, but they need the right tools and support to act effectively. Therefore, my partner and I are building a digital solution for companies to manage the entire process of their carbon footprint – we call it a CPA: Carbon Action Platform. Our tech platform empowers companies to master their path to carbon neutrality and remain a competitive business not only now but also in the future when resource constraints will separate the wheat from the chaff. Together, we reduce a major share of global carbon emissions.
How did I get to where I am today? My first real startup experience was at the online coffee retailer Coffee Circle, where I got to experience the ups and downs of an early-stage venture and which had me hooked from day one.
However, my master thesis on the success and failure stories of serial entrepreneurs lead me to work on the investor side first, doing early-stage investments in the VC world. I got to know the startup ecosystem, support portfolio companies, build the respective network and learn the toolkit required for early-stage investments. After spending three years on the investment side, it was time to get in the driver seat rather than stay the somewhat distant observer and advisor that I was as an investor.And I can truly say, with this shift I gained an entirely new level of drive and energy.
How did you approach the idea of starting your own business? Did you have a specific strategy or did things just develop organically?
I took eight weeks off from work and went through the process I describe the last question below. Since it was always my plan to start my own business, I had this thought in the back of my head for a while and it felt deeply rooted in me.
I believe, there has to be a good mix of structure and organic development. Structure applies to the ideation phase and a clear daily routine (that also included body and mind activity) but you have to give yourself some freedom to develop an ideal-related enthusiasm and end up at the final idea as part of an organic process.
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In what way did your Master in Management at HHL prepare you for your career and entrepreneurship?
I believe the Master in Management at HHL is tough but great preparation for one’s later career on several levels:
Teamwork takes output to the next level. Or more specifically: most output is the result of a team effort. A substantial share of program credits is built around project-based teamwork. That means you truly had to learn how to set up various teams with clearly defined responsibilities and collaborate super-fast and effectively. In other words: disagree, discuss and commit to a result – the very essentials of making the most out of teamwork. For myself, until I came to HHL I was not a fan of group work, but my time at HHL led to a total mindset shift.
Let’s look at your time at HHL. Why did you choose to pursue a Master in Management?
The right place at the right time and a good amount of gut feeling made me look for no other option than HHL – the decision was made in no time. After having studied at WWU Muenster with thousands of business administration students I was in need of a change and looking for a complementary addition in terms of students, university size, and lecture approach.
I visited the Master Messe in Münster where I met a student from HHL who was super down-to-earth, pitched the Master program and got me excited: a program that consisted of an integrated internship, term abroad, strong practical connection and close collaboration between fellow students and professors.
“Speak to advisors and clients to learn about the true pain points of your customers.”
To see it for myself I went to Leipzig for open house, took part in some classes as a guest student and met the passionate and enthusiastic Dean Professor Stubner, who was at that time professor for business strategy. After that, I only had to pass the challenging application process– already back then an intense process and the first hint what would expect us for our terms at HHL.
I quickly fell in love with the city of Leipzig – the hidden champion in Eastern Germany and the city that still pulls me back for its laid-back culture, beautiful scenery and vibrant nightlife. Fortunately, I got accepted and experienced a flying transition in terms of universities.
Hello, I'm Jana. I have been working for HHL for almost 20 years and know the DNA of our university very well. As the Director of Program Marketing I´m here for you to answer all questions about our Master's programs, including the General Management Track, our Finance Track and Entrepreneurship Track. Feel free to reach out to me. I am more than happy to assist!