Proof of Concept market test 2023 winner: twelve

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Proof of Concept market test 2023 winner: twelve

The market test 2023

At the Entrepreneurship Summit 2023 (21 & 22 October 2023), selected founders traditionally present their start-up ideas at the Proof of Concept Market Test. The participants have the entire Summit weekend to convince the event attendees of their idea, product/service, and generate initial sales. The aim is to gather as much feedback as possible and test the idea on a real (but still protected) market.

This year, 7 founders competed and presented their start-up ideas to the Summit audience. In the end, twelve convinced the Summit audience the most and with their investment they chose twelve as the winner of the Proof of Concept Market Test 2023.

We wanted to find out more from the winner Hagen Droste about how he came up with the idea, what he thinks about entrepreneurship and self-employment and what he plans and hopes for the future of twelve.

Founder profile of twelve - Building self-motivated high-performance teams

Name of the foundation: twelve - Building self-motivated high-performance teams Team: Hagen Droste
Location: Gröbenzell near Munich

1. What is your idea - briefly explained?

I support companies in deploying their employees according to their strengths and interests. The result is intrinsically motivated employees with higher satisfaction and commitment, and therefore lower staff turnover, lower sickness rates and lower recruitment costs. In recent years, I have developed a very simple method for this based on scientific findings, which I have called "Building self-motivated high-performance teams".

2. What fundamental problem do you want to solve with this?

Germany is complaining about a shortage of skilled labour. And at the same time, Gallup studies over the last 20 years have consistently shown that only around 17% of the labour force in Germany is actively engaged in their job. The remaining 83% work to rule or have already resigned. This has negative consequences for employees, companies and society. In addition, the average fluctuation rate in Germany has been around 30% for years. This is expensive for companies.

I see a huge and simple starting point here for resolving these contradictions: If we manage to make employees aware of their strengths and give them the opportunity to utilise them professionally, we will increase their intrinsic motivation and thus also their commitment, and possibly discover hidden potential that will benefit the company. This inevitably makes the company more attractive, both for its own employees and for external applicants. In my opinion, this is an important lever against the shortage of skilled labour that is still used far too rarely.

3. How did you come up with the idea - tell us a bit about yourself, your past, interests and how you developed into an entrepreneur?

Basically, the topic of "finding strengths and using them professionally" is also my very own topic. My background, schooling, studies and employment have taught me to achieve good results, regardless of whether I enjoyed a subject or not. I then made a career at two industrial B2B wholesalers in Munich and built up and managed companies in various countries. In the process, I learnt to perform and unfortunately too often put my actual needs and wishes on the back burner.

I realised two things: firstly, that I wasn't happy doing something that I was good at but that didn't match my strengths and interests. That made me 15.11.2023 rather draining. On the other hand, I always tried to deploy my employees according to their strengths and interests, with outstanding results: committed employees who were happy to go the extra mile. 

I then realised that this is exactly what drives me: Bringing people into their strengths. I have been working as a freelance management consultant for five and a half years and have tried to incorporate this topic more and more into my services. This summer, I decided to put my full focus on it and play it 100% professionally.

4. Where did you need help, what were your biggest challenges?

The topic of developing employees' potential is currently experiencing a lot of hype in times of New Work and self-organisation. At the same time, however, I am experiencing a lot of "Yes, but..." and many objections, especially in traditional organisations. Five years ago, I took part in the Entrepreneurship Foundation's masterclass to develop a viable concept on this topic for traditional companies too, but initially failed due to many objections. Looking back, perhaps the concept was not round enough. On the other hand, I certainly allowed myself to be influenced too much by the objections.

Nevertheless, I couldn't let go of the topic. In the meantime, I have conducted many interviews with CEOs and HR managers to work out their pains when it comes to employee development, and from this I have created a concept for a software programme entitled "Potential-based Staffing". Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to realise this for cost reasons. The approach that seemed the most "lean" to me is the one with which I have now won the Proof of Concept competition, coming via consulting. At the beginning of this year, I consulted Dr Kerstin Gernig, a coach who had already gone down this path herself and gave me valuable support in formulating my proposal.

5. What are your plans for the future?

In the short term, I am in the middle of implementing my service with my first pilot customer Tripleson AB from Sweden, which I won at the Entrepreneurship Summit. The findings from this project will certainly provide me with valuable input for the further development of my offering.

At the same time, the aim now is to acquire further customers and to scale my offering via coaches. There are already a few coaches who came to my stand at the Entrepreneurship Summit and expressed their interest in working with me. This network can continue to grow.

6. Could you imagine working as an employee (again or at some point)?

It's true that working on this project fills me with great joy and satisfaction. The ideas are bubbling up, it feels like a big playground, doors are opening. I find this experimentation, this entrepreneurial freedom, very fulfilling. Whether I will work as an employee again depends very much on the success of this project. of course depends very much on the success of this project. I wouldn't want to give up my self-employment voluntarily if the income is enough to live on.

7. What is a "job with purpose" in your eyes and what does it mean for you to act sustainably?

A "job with purpose" can be many things. It can be meaningful for society, for the environment or for yourself. I realised that "for myself" is the most important thing for me: to find what I really want, what really fulfils me. I actually managed to do that with this project. If the job also makes sense for society, that's of course twice as nice.

The word "sustainable" is now used quite excessively. You often find it in an environmental context, and it's also often part of greenwashing statements. That's why I would rather use the word internally: what is sustainable for me as a founder, what is sustainable for an employee? And I believe that it is more sustainable for people and companies to work to their strengths and interests than to simply do what is required.

8. What would you like to change about the world of work right now if you could?

It all starts with awareness. And it doesn't just start in the world of work, but in parents' homes, nurseries and schools. In my opinion, it is still too little recognised and accepted in our society that every person has their own potential and strengths, which need to be recognised throughout life and brought to bear in society. Let's take a look at our schools: the curriculum takes centre stage, not the individual. Everyone should be able to do everything well. Then there would be the best chances on the labour market. So this "waste of potential" starts long before working life. I believe that such a change in awareness would be good for society as a whole. That's where I would start. It would have a significant positive impact on our working world.

9. What is the appeal of self-employment for you?

I enjoy working on topics that I am passionate about. I also see being self-employed as a journey to myself. I am shown very directly what goes down well with customers and what doesn't. Where I am strong and where I have deficits and need to get support there. And it's also sometimes a financial rollercoaster ride, you have to be able to endure that.

10. How did you find out about the Proof of Concept competition?

I have been attending the Entrepreneurship Summit regularly for 10 years, so I know about this competition. In 2018/2019, the year I took part in the Masterclass, the Proof of Concept competition should have been the crowning glory, but my concept was not yet mature enough for me to apply. Now it took a few years longer before I was able to take part. A nice confirmation of Professor Faltin's thesis that a concept sometimes takes years to mature.

11. What experience did you gain from the proof of concept? Tell us a little about your participation.

It was clear to me in advance that the audience at the Entrepreneurship Summit would be open to my business idea, as it is very much oriented towards potential-based approaches, which are also represented by other speakers at the summit, such as the brain researcher Prof Dr Gerald Hüther, or Prof Faltin himself.

However, I also realised that the proof of concept format is a B2C format rather than one for B2B. In the B2B context, it is unusual to buy a service that extends over a period of 3 months via an online shop. This would probably only be done by the CEO of a small company who was absolutely convinced of this service and brave enough to buy a pig in a poke after just a brief meeting at the trade fair stand. There was this courageous CEO of the Swedish company Tripleson AB, Sönke Rickertsen:
'Shortly before the end of the Proof of Concept competition, I hadn't sold anything and had already mentally finished with the competition. 

I was satisfied with my participation, my pitch on stage in front of around 1,000 spectators in the hall and online, and the great feedback I had received at my stand. I left my stand and walked down the stairs to the auditorium where the award ceremony was to take place. Just then, Sönke Rickertsen approached me on the stairs and asked what he could do to help me win the competition. He was so enthusiastic about my offer and wanted it to get more attention. Long story short, he bought my service and I was able to win the competition at the last minute. Fantastic!

12. What do you want to achieve with your idea?

I believe in the uniqueness of every person. Everyone has their strengths, but far too few people are aware of them and utilise them in their job. I believe that people who work to their strengths and interests are happier, healthier and also more productive. And that can lead to a win-win-win, for the employee, for the company and for our society.

13. Du hast nun den Proof of Concept 2023 gewonnen. Was sind die nächsten Schritte?

Der Gewinn des Proof of Concept-Wettbewerbs war eine tolle Bestätigung meiner Arbeit der letzten Jahre. Der Zuspruch während des Wettbewerbs und im Anschluss daran hat mich schon überwältigt und mir gezeigt, dass ich auf dem richtigen Weg bin. Nun geht es darum, das Projekt bei meinem ersten Pilotkunden erfolgreich durchzuführen, und weitere Kunden zu gewinnen, so dass sich mein Geschäft im nächsten Jahr trägt. Konkret bedeutet das, über Vorträge auf Unternehmer-Veranstaltungen und über digitale Tools die geeigneten Zielkunden anzusprechen, und für sie passende Formate zu entwickeln. Zielkunden sind tatsächlich Teamleiter, Personalverantwortliche oder CEOs, die die Auffassung teilen, dass es einen unschätzbaren Mehrwert für das Unternehmen darstellt, wenn Mitarbeiter in ihren Stärken arbeiten. Branchenunabhängig.

Hagen Droste
Founder of twelve
Email: hagen.droste[at]

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