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What does ... actually do? News from our founders

Gründerin tanzt mit blauem Fünfeck im Vordergrund

We ask how our former protégés, start-up alumnae and alumni or FHPreneurs are doing, what moves them and in which direction their business is currently heading.

Updates from the FHPreneurs

Although illustrator Ann Bahrs has been self-employed since 2017, the communication design graduate has only now really started to see herself as a self-determined founder. Ann is not alone in this process "from freelancer to founder". Designers in particular finance their livelihood with their first commissioned works during their studies and develop the desire to found their own label. Born in Bremen, Ann emphasises how right and important it is to be able to reposition oneself at any time during self-employment. Only in this way can you react individually to changes in the market and your own needs:

"I was only able to ask myself questions about how, when and with whom now that I had finished my studies, and I realised: I am also an author, I am also about making visible what I have to say. Through my skills, I can visually shape issues and thus give them a voice."

From illustration to (comic) revolution

Developing your own attitude to the way you work takes courage. Ann processes her experiences of the "rocky" road there in her latest project with the working title: "The Language of Money". With the help of illustrations, she sheds light on the taboo subject of money as a necessary means of co-determination. The aim is to bring together the stories of many people into a graphic novel and thus overcome the speechlessness of destitution. To realise the project, the artist is looking for suitable funding and applying for "artist in residence" programmes abroad.

As part of a growing comic scene in Germany, Ann is also seeking comic funding programmes and is on the lookout for a suitable publisher for her project. From 19 to 26 October 2022, her comic was part of a light animation at DeLight in Erfurt.

Meanwhile, the designer is open to commissions and collaborations - among other things, she gives illustration workshops. For enquiries, just drop by Ann's website. Her Insta profile offers insights into her work.

If you want to learn more about Ann, you can look forward to her soon to be published founding portrait.

Ms Caze: Product designer Carolin Zeyher has been behind the label since 2016. Caro has been self-employed since she completed her design studies in 2012, but she didn't have any concrete plans at the time and instead had a relaxed attitude: "I'll just see what I can achieve without money and without a name.
The freelance interior designer is inspired by several stays abroad, internships and her life in Berlin's creative scene. Caro designed her first piece of furniture, the Natú sofa, while still a student, and a few years later she exhibited for the first time at the international design fair Salone del Mobile in Milan.

Reduced creates clarity

Probably the greatest source of her inspiration is her freedom: "I've always made spontaneous decisions - depending on what presented itself at the moment and what I could afford." But that doesn't mean that intuitive decisions can't also become lasting (business) relationships: Ms Caze has been working with the carpentry firm Mohr from the Bregenzerwald since 2016 - the same goes for many others in her network. Sustainability also plays a major role in her designs - by now she has a considerable portfolio of sustainable furniture made of wood and textiles from recycled materials - all of them simple, stylish and above all practical. The designer herself prefers a simple, authentic way of life and only makes things that she herself uses in her home.

"I keep at it and keep seeing what happens in my script - where the future will take Ms Caze".

Of course, even for the most independent designer, there are a few commitments that eat up time and cost money, these include the points of bookkeeping, costing, marketing, storage space, transport and so on. However, Ms Caze does not let this discourage her and we too say keep up the good work and all the best.

Graphic designer and illustrator Johanna Mellenthin has given her solo business its own creative name: studjo-hanna - a combination of "studio", her name "Johanna" and nickname "Hanna". An important step that makes it clear that the communication design graduate has decided to become 100% self-employed. Johanna set up her own business with the help of the start-up service back in 2018. What was intended as a "side job" during her studies developed into a fulfilling professional perspective:

That's mainly because I think it's great to have the freedom to work when I want and to be able to decide for myself how and for whom I work.

New name and new spaces for authentic projects

"Safety concerns" that prevent many talented people from becoming self-employed full-time did not exist for Johanna thanks to her (follow-up) assignments during and after her training. The founder focuses more and more on socially valuable and ecologically sustainable companies and projects such as "The Female Company" or "Viva con Agua":

It is important for me to be able to stand behind the companies and the projects I work for.

This was also the case with one of her latest projects for the organic hemp seed drink "hemi", whose corporate design and packaging design was created by Johanna.

Not only is the name studjo-hanna new, but Johanna, who lives in Potsdam by choice, would also like to share an office with friends and colleagues. Please send any tips directly to

We wish her every success in her search.

Not only founders know how important networking is. It is often the chance encounters that turn out to be life-changing. Whether at professional events or in a private setting: the exchange of contact data is often forgotten or neglected, or you simply don't have your business card with you, if you have one at all.

Business passport for sustainable networking

To overcome these obstacles and turn fleeting meetings into lasting relationships, founders Donatus Wolf and Phillip Trenz have developed the"Businesspass", a digital business card. We remember the user-friendly web app COVID Pass, launched in 2021 by interface designer Donatus and his colleague. Like the open source project COVID Pass, the "business passport" impresses with its uncomplicated handling:
"We want to help people connect and stay in touch using the most convenient sharing we can imagine: Just scan a QR code and your colleague has your contact details right in their phone."

Similar to an analogue business card, the colour and logo can be customised. Further customisation options are in development. A great idea that simplifies everyday work a bit more.

More info at

There are founding stories that are simply remarkable. Nils Fischer has such a story to show. He studied product design at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam and at the DesignCentre of Swinbourne University of Technology in Melbourne. After graduating as a designer in 2010, various international professional stations and projects followed. - both as a freelancer and as an employee.

Innovations that pay off

In 2013, he developed NICEDICE, for which he and his project team received the EXIST-Gründerstipendium. The three are still successful today with their company Studio AFS - Büro für Entwicklung und Gestaltung. For the NICEDICE - a tool with which film and photo equipment such as camera, microphones, light and co. can be connected in a transportable and work-effective way – Nils Fischer was awarded numerous design and film prizes, such as the Brandenburg Innovation Prize (2013) or the German Design Award (2015). In the meantime, the founding project has continued to develop, new products have been added, which are still manufactured in Germany but are now also sold by dealers worldwide.

Made for founding ...

But not everything is always as easy as it reads: For Nils Fischer, self-employment is the right path and he advises everyone to take it. But founders should also be aware that there is always the risk of earning less or nothing at all, he points out. However, those who are not deterred by this and by the sometimes unfriendly culture of administrative and tax law in Germany do as Nils Fischer does and found two companies at once: since 2016, his design and graphic studio Nils Fischer has been inspiring various clients such as element 13 or the Central Council of Jews in Germany and developing new successful brands. He has also received numerous awards for this work. We wish Nils continued success.

Susanne Laser, a communication designer from Potsdam, chose a rather untypical path to founding her own company: in 2017, she used crowdfunding to publish her Master's thesis "Kein Hawaii - Pilgern im Havelland". The book is convincing not only because it claims to be a travel guide that is not one: readers can expect an aesthetic interplay of prose, poetry, philosophy, but also illustration and photography about the Brandenburg Way of St. James, which the author pilgrimaged along.

The gender performance of our society put to the test

Recently, the founder has been pursuing a new podcast project: VERBITTERT TALENTLOS. Together with a queer colleague, she discusses conscious or unconscious role patterns, gender boundaries, family models, pressure to conform, different concepts of feminism and diverse life models at the interface between private and public life.

"We are the unshaven leg among podcasts".

The project was born out of a need to give voice to women and mothers – their experiences of disadvantage and incongruity in terms of self-actualisation. Especially under Corona, the discussion about the socio-political position of women and families has intensified again, but nothing has moved. Since September 2021, there has been a new episode every other Friday:

"The mental load is still there, what good does it do us to say *inside only to end up drained?"

Her Instagram channel @verbitterttalentlos complements the podcast with feminist explanations of terms such as Mental Load, Male Gaze etc. and discusses our society's expectations of mothering and supposedly innate female virtues under the heading TALENTLESS.

The section BULLSHIT HITS – i. e. sexist-stereotypical depictions of women in advertising, stock images and the like - stigmatises and de-romanticises female clichés. The same goes for the series THE DILEMMA OF THE WEEK, in which public media producers of sexist statements (in podcasts, television and the press) are written to and asked to comment.

A book list with feminist literature and its reviews rounds off the profile of VERBITTERT TALENTLOS. At least for the time being. An online shop with queer-gender-sensitive products, exhibitions, interesting guests for the podcast and the satire format PRACHT & LENZ, which will start in March, are planned. In general, the project is keeping its options open for the future. We can be curious and listen/look in.

Living consciously is a topic that has rightly gained more and more importance in recent years and has become an integral part of everyday life – both professionally and privately. Our founder Annemarie Rasche has turned her interest in mindfulness, body awareness and yoga into a profession: she is studying "Early Childhood Studies" at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam  with a focus on mindfulness and social-emotional learning, which will ultimately result in accompanying scientific research. In addition to the research project, Annemarie is pursuing her other passion, yoga: since she got to know and love the philosophical teaching in 2012 during a work and travel stay in Canada, yoga has become an indispensable part of her life. She is completing a yoga training course and rounding off her knowledge with training in spiral dynamics – a special movement theory - and as a mindfulness trainer: "Particularly during the past few months, which were dominated by Corona, the mindfulness and yoga practice gave me a lot of inner security, support and relaxation," says the solo self-employed woman. Finding this support and security within oneself and understanding the saying "There is strength in tranquillity" not just as an empty phrase but as a true attitude to life is what her courses are also about.

At the moment, the Master's student is fine-tuning a start-up idea that combines her passion for mindfulness and her scientific interest: Under the motto "Space for Body & Consciousness", an offer for exploring and promoting body awareness and one's own self is to be created. This includes individual lessons in bodywork, relaxation timeouts, further training for educators as well as yoga and mindfulness courses.

From January 2022, an online course will be launched: "Mindfulness and yoga according to the principles of Spiral Dynamics". Also in the new year, the planned website will go online, where more information on Annemarie's offers can be found and direct booking of the courses will be possible. Anyone who would like to find out more beforehand or is interested in taking part in a course can contact at any time.

Christian Metzner, a graduate in architecture and product design, has had an eventful and determined educational and professional life: Already during his studies at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, he worked for the Munich designer couple Saskia and Stefan Diez. When he wrote his diploma thesis in cooperation with the company Bree in 2012, Philipp Bree subsequently brought him into the design team of the new bag label PB0110. Christian pursued his desire to deepen his knowledge in the field of fashion accessories and bags with postgraduate studies in clothing technology at the HTW in Berlin.

His deep passion, however, is the material glass, which has held a fascination for him ever since his studies with the professor of industrial design, Hermann August Weizenegger. While still a student, the young designer set up his own business with the help of the start-up service and launched his first products made of glass on the market. His love for the fragile, transparent and at the same time expressive material has had a successful effect on the high-quality product line, which is now available in several countries worldwide. On his website you can find discreet and imaginative glass creations such as glasses, carafes, vases, straws, decorative objects and fancy jewellery made of borosilicate glass – a particularly strong and temperature-resistant glass – as well as bags or purses made of genuine leather. For the past 12 years, the products have been manufactured in a Czech factory which, due to the moderate distance to Berlin, ensures a constant personal exchange. The glass products produced there are then personally checked, packed and shipped by the creator in Berlin.

New founding project with old treasures

Due to the sudden lockdown last year, Christian Metzner fared like so many others and had to do without a large part of his distribution channels and income. The creative head used the involuntarily gained time for new project ideas. Out of necessity, he sold his personal collection of design products from the former GDR on Ebay with a heavy heart. The demand was unexpectedly high and so a new founding idea quickly grew and at the same time the desire to give these creations steeped in history a worthy stage. It should not remain just an Ebay shop – The label with the fitting and meaningful name pressecafeberlin is born:

"But my main concern is to mention the almost forgotten names of the designers. I want to create a dignified environment for the products and not engage in "Ostalgie". I envision a comprehensive catalogue raisonné in which the viewer can browse, discover and, of course, purchase one or the other object from that time."

A web shop is being planned, and if you would like to see more about the pressecafeberlin project, you can follow the Instagram channel:

Product designer Franz Dietrich can already look back on 10 years of self-employment. This time has been marked by many stages and a wide variety of cooperation partners. As he says himself, industrial research is just as important to him as the transfer of knowledge to culture and society - and all this preferably in teamwork. So he first founded his own furniture brand together with a friend. At the same time, he starts working at the University of Applied Sciences as a workshop manager for digital tools and completes his Master's degree. Subsequently, the cooperation with the textile machine factory Stoll begins. The development of 3D knitted fabrics is Franz's topic in his master's thesis: he develops a possible solution concept, which is patented by Stoll and constantly developed further.

Franz has always remained connected to the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam and is now active in teaching, where he teaches students digital tool development. Together with friend and colleague Sebastian Voigt, he has been pushing ahead with the development of a new web-based learning model for digital tools in the product design course since September. The project is funded by the Innovation Fund of the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam and supported by mentor Prof. Jörg Hundertpfund.

In addition, he is co-initiator of the current"pioneer project microfacture" at the Vulkanfiberfabrik Werder. Together with Sebastian Voigt - founder of the company Design + Robotics - the topic "Past and Future of an Industrial Culture" will be explored. Until 18 December 2021, the concept of a regional high-tech microfacture will be brought to life in the industrial halls of the former Vulkanfiberfabrik by means of an exhibition, networking events and workshops.

Italian-born Marta Carlesso, alias Marta Karta, studied product design at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, specialising in product design. In 2017, she co-founded and designed the"Haus Brandenburg" initiative, which brought together design students from the University of Applied Sciences with craft businesses and manufacturers from Brandenburg to jointly create particularly high-quality, visually appealing and at the same time marketable products. Marta set up her own business for the first time while still studying as a musician and designer with a focus on staging.

Marta Karta's versatility as an artist became apparent early on. In addition to design, she performs as a violinist and singer in several bands of different musical genres, slipping into different roles visually as well. As a solo artist, the interplay of music, performance and aesthetics is her great passion.

In 2019, she began designing costumes and stage sets: "costumedesign is that sweet baby born from product design and showbusiness," she writes in one of her Instagram posts. In the meantime, she has specialised in the production of burlesque costumes and gives "costume making workshops" in cooperation with the dance studio Schönheitstanz Berlin. See the successful video portrait by filmmaker Johanna Pohland in the Founders Gallery.

Valentin José Kammel's vita alone reveals his passion for wood as a sustainable raw material: he is a trained carpenter, wood sculptor and wood turner; worked for many years in a Berlin workshop for wood restoration. And because he really wanted to understand all facets of working with wood in a restorative way, he eventually completed a Bachelor's and Master's degree at the University of Applied Sciences as a wood restorer. In 2018, with the help of the university's start-up service, he set up his own business and took over the company where he had previously been employed for 15 years. This is how Calderón was finally born – a company that transfers traditional wood craftsmanship into the future: The portfolio not only includes classic restoration and wood sculpting work, but Calderón also offers customised product fabrications by personal arrangement. What was the most exciting project so far?

"That was a library in historical style, equipped with the latest technology, made in traditional craftsmanship, which now adorns an entire conference room in a London company headquarters. Here, illuminated shelf boards set off the book spines, framed by the finest walnut veneer and hand-carved and gilded capitals. We have also integrated an air-conditioned display case according to museum standards for an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus. We also offer reconstructions of furniture, sculptures, etc. Most recently, the reconstruction of a burnt-down gallery balustrade (2.40 x 1.40 m) for the Maria Magdalenen Church in Eberswalde, for which I had to combine classical carpentry, carving and turning."

High-quality woodwork is in great demand, yet the founder still wants to remain true to his own values and be able to choose his own commissions, as he recounts in the video portrait, among other things.

The founding team around Tetrapix owner Marie-Luise Schade and Bastian Brabec offers unusual but very effective workshop concepts for children. The youngsters build and programme screens out of recycled tetrapacks and fairy lights. What has happened in the past 5 years since the company was founded in 2016 and received the Code Week Award for the "TetraTetris" idea is best told by the team, which has grown in the meantime:

"We have been active throughout Germany at various schools, initiatives, locations and in projects and have, above all, steadily and continuously expanded our network. We now give and design small to large holiday workshops and camps, are active in GirlsDay, give further training for teachers, give lectures and impulses on the topic of digital education at trade fairs and specialist days, develop additional computer science curricula (Hopp Foundation BaWü) or design workshops on ESD, environmental topics and much more in addition to our standard Pixel programme for various clients. (e.g. Klimaarena in Sinsheim or Berlin Libraries). You can follow what we are up to on Instagram and our website. We look forward to enquiries and new collaborations."

By the way, Tetrapix not only offers workshops for pupils from the age of 4 and input for teachers, but also the corresponding software, instructions and TetraKits that can be ordered.

"Best tools for everyone!" That is and remains the motto of the successful company Toolbot. The project around founder Jan Gerlach was voted one of the 7 most interesting start-ups by the website in December 2020. Toolbot now rents out high-quality professional tools from Bosch or Hilti, for example, to hobby craftsmen at 3 vending machine stations in Berlin – without annoying deposits, forms and high costs. The tools are rented via app and paid by credit card or PayPal. In autumn 2020, the 5-member team will move into its headquarters in the city centre of Cottbus. So far, the rental stations are located in shops like Berlin's Spätis. In the future, there will also be automated stations in spaces that are accessible at all times, such as the Cottbus train station.

Feedback on starting a business at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam

"All people should have reasons." (Maike Panz)

We asked our founders what they associate with the start-up service and what it's like to start your own business at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam.

It becomes clear how important networking and personal contact persons are for new entrepreneurs and that the University of Applied Sciences offers great conditions for considering self-employment as a career option.

Video on Vimeo