“We want to become the Red Bull of hemp.“
Two years ago, Fabian Braitsch, master student at the TUM School of Management, founded a company that combines two things that mean a lot to him: healthy nutrition and sustainability. His company Hempions sells products made from hemp seeds. These are particularly rich in nutrients, and, unlike many superfoods, they can be grown regionally. We talked to Fabian for our AlumniTuesday, and he told us about the challenges he and his team had to overcome, how the university provided help along the way, and why Hempions relies on crowdfunding.
Fabian, you are just about to finish your master’s degree and have already founded a company – how did that come about?
As an athlete, the subject of nutrition has always played a major role in my life. During the course of my skiing career I was always focused on giving my body all the necessary nutrients for the best possible performance. At some point, my friend and co-founder Daniel drew my attention to hemp seeds. He is a professional skier but at one point he was hardly able to move due to an inflammation in his back. Then he discovered hemp seeds and their benefits – and got well again. That inspired me, and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. A year later, I called him and said, “Let’s start a business!“ That was two years ago and since then we have learned a lot.
What were the most important findings?
I can say that we chose a difficult market. The food industry in general already has a lot of regulations, but selling hemp food is of course extra challenging. For example, we were not able to place ads on social media and Google at the beginning. Also, our payment service provider stopped operating with us overnight and shut our online shop down. Hemp is still a taboo subject and is seen only as a drug by many. Very few people know about the potential of the plant. In addition, we previously had little experience in the business sector and so we progressed a lot through learning by doing during the first couple of months. Since we do not have an investor yet, we had to solve things ourselves and without a lot of budget. That way, of course everything takes a little longer, but you also notice a very steep learning curve.
To what extent have your studies at the TUM School of Management helped you with founding a company?
After having acquired your basic knowledge in the bachelor’s degree at the TUM School of Management, you are very free in your choice of subjects for the master’s degree. I mainly attend lectures and seminars that help me to grow as a founder. By the way, I consider already being active as a founder a great advantage. Because that way, I can apply the theory I learn immediately. The most valuable lecture I attended was the entrepreneurship seminar where I worked out the business plan for Hempions. In return, I received very critical feedback and a realistic assessment. Only when someone tells you what will not work, and which obstacles can prevent you from succeeding, will you feel the necessary pressure for you to develop further. At the TUM School of Management, this works so well because the seminar groups are very small. It almost feels like personal coaching.
And what role does the TUM Management Alumni e.V. play in your studies?
The actions and the energy that arise from our alumni meetings always impress me. Of course, the network plays a major role in this. Through events, such as the Entrepreneurship Day or the fireside chats, you can get in touch with interesting personalities. This helps enormously to build up your own network. Since my company is in Austria and I am very busy there, I rarely spend time in Munich. That’s why I also like to use these events to meet like-minded students and exchange ideas with them.
What are your goals for the future?
First of all, of course, I would like to successfully complete our crowdfunding. We hope for many supporters who are convinced of our vision. For every contribution donated, we send out a gift from our product range.
The overarching goals for me are to conquer the retail trade in Germany and gradually expand a local supply chain so that we can add more sustainable and healthy products. Our vision is to create a brand that is known worldwide and that immediately comes to mind when you think of hemp. At some point, we want to become the Red Bull of hemp. Also, we want to show that there are endless possibilities to start a business with a positive impact on the world. Even if it is not always easy, now is the time for sustainable companies. The market exists: consumers nowadays find it cool to think outside the box and hold sustainability up as one of the top priorities. By digging into that, we can improve step by step.
TUM Management Alumni e.V. connects alumni, students and partners. At events spread throughout the year, former and current students come together and exchange ideas. Even in times of the coronavirus, the TUM Management Alumni e.V. is hosting a lot interesting come-togethers – virtually, of course. Check the association’s website to sign up.
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