‘Something had to be done’ says founder

'Something had to be done' says founder
Stephane-Bertin Hoffmann of Sciencebite. Photo: Sciencebite
In our ongoing feature series, The Local looks into a successful entrepreneur's life - the story behind his successes, major challenges and how being an entrepreneur changed him forever. This week, Sparsh Sharma talks to Stéphane-Bertin Hoffmann, co-founder at Berlin-based Sciencebite.

Sciencebite is an online platform connecting technology companies with highly specialized scientists for short advice and consulting sessions.

How did you come up with this business idea?

The idea behind Sciencebite came from the experience co-founder Samson Rogers and I gathered in our previous jobs working with research and development (R&D) companies.

Samson got his PhD in Physics from Cambridge before going on to work at the University of Manchester as a post-doc research assistant. During his years in academia, he was amazed at how rarely PhDs were connected to industry although they had much to gain from it, including job opportunities.

Later on, Samson joined a product development company based in Cambridge, UK, where he led several scientific and engineering projects and did some consulting for large companies.

He quickly understood that companies sought external advice from young, specialized scientists, and that something had to be done to connect those two groups that did not talk much to each other.

I met Samson when this idea was already in his head and decided to quit my consulting job to start Sciencebite with him and another friend, Lester Perez (now our CTO).

My own experience with R&D is two-fold. I first worked for a knowledge brokering firm in Berlin where my job was to manually identify and engage industry experts who could advise my clients. Later, I served R&D companies directly by advising on public funding for their technology projects.

What were the initial challenges? How did you overcome them?

We started off Sciencebite with the assumption that scientists from all trades would find immediate benefit in our offering. Many scientists actually tried our web application and found it useful, but overall we learnt that, in order to be successful, we had to start by establishing ourselves into a specific market before moving on to other industries.

We learned this by reaching out to our early users and asking them about our site: How did they find us? What did they initially expect? Were their expectations fulfilled?

I am convinced that talking to your customers as early as possible is the best way to build a product people will want to use. That’s even more true in the B2B market where there’s little room for irrational decisions.

How has the journey been so far?

Overall, it has been a great journey with lots of learning and some exhilarating moments. We released our first beta application in September 2014 on the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield, one of the largest startup conferences, in San Francisco, USA. Although we did not make it to the big finals, we got to experience the Silicon Valley mindset first-hand and brought lots of learning back to Berlin.

We also participated in the first edition of the Google Launchpad Berlin, a one-week accelerator programme that helps startups kick start their business. Since then, we have been working hard with our early users and just released a new version of the site about a week ago.

We’ve changed our approach a little but our core concept has remained: connect industrial R&D companies with young, talented scientists for consulting sessions.

How has becoming an entrepreneur changed you, personally?

Becoming an entrepreneur has had a major influence on both my professional and private life. By becoming your own boss, you suddenly have to take on more responsibility as well as lead by example. This obviously influences how I feel and think outside of work.

You also have to deal with pressure. I found practicing meditation regularly helped me maintain a healthy balance as well as a calm mind. I would recommend it to anyone.

Any other personal reflections and/ or message to budding entrepreneurs?

My advice would be to carefully consider why you want to start off on your own and what it will mean both in your private and professional life. It is quite normal to be afraid of the unknown before taking the plunge into the entrepreneurial life.

However, I have found that by imagining the worst that could happen to me in case my company would fail, I could easily see that the worst really wasn’t that bad and that the risk was worth taking.

At the end, it is all about following your dreams. After all, what’s worse? Having regrets for missing a chance that was waiting for you or temporarily relinquishing the security of a job you didn't like anyways? Personally, I would always say the first.

Are you an entrepreneur in Germany? Contact us and we might feature your story

Sparsh Sharma works as a freelance journalist for The Local and blogs about his experiences in Denmark. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparsh_s.

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