Usher gets bumped at 10:30 am on a Friday in Munich in a low-key coffee shop in the central part of the city. Meanwhile, I am interviewing Franz over coffee and ice teas. A man a few years older than me with a 5-week-old kid, he inquires about certain issues in the US that a handful of people know about. We are talking about yellow houses in Detroit.
Franz has no idea I am from Michigan, but he is well read and found a common point to start dialogue that would continue for hours. Men cut from the same cloth; Ali, Anthony and I find too many common chords with this Bavarian entrepreneur, who has funded over 400 entrepreneurs in East Germany.
He considers himself a hybrid between a politician and a social entrepreneur. In a country full of red tape, he found a way to bypass the painted town to raise millions of Euros to fund simple yet productive startups in his home state. He convinced each mayor of the regions he works in to collaborate, and founded an incubator that supports local enterprises. Schools even benefit. Kindergarten programs are funded if they are able to find innovative practices. Franz takes half of his money from Brussels, while the rest comes from private equity. Many former entrepreneurs succeed in his system, and give back, with a modest 5% return expected from their investments. This is community building at the most organic level.
This man is the catalyst for progress in the rural parts of Germany. He recommends we talk to his close ally, who has collaborated with him to initiate the same movement in urban areas in Berlin and other cosmopolitan cities. Tag teaming bureaucrats, these guys refuse to be outcomes of their environments. They realized at early ages, through street smarts and enlightenment that they have power to influence the system that others have become complacent in. Systems are designed by humans, and can be bypassed, changed, and even broken. Franz realizes that the next generation has endless potential.
He finds creative ways to incorporate universities with the businesses he funds, to prevent talent from leaving the community but instead staying local. He boasts that these businesses offer opportunities that bigger corporations can’t, and the young people recognize this in his programs. He shows his frustration with facial expressions and a raised tone when my colleague points out how the German Ambassador told us that his countrymen value security and seek safe jobs that last 30 years. Franz quickly says this is a state person’s point of view that is outdated hundreds of years.
We find a common interest in Hyderabad, ironically. Arrange a future meeting that may or may not occur. But I am inspired. I hold on to the broken English that I hear this afternoon to get me through a jetlagged day (its been over a week and I still can’t adjust)
Calm and composed, I get home, strategize how I will attack a generous breakfast and bike tour of Munich, and pray that the local football team is victorious. This trip has been incredibly productive, and with two cities left, I am extremely motivated.
Usher – OMG – you have no place in Munich during my business meetings damnit.
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