ZOLLHOF Talent Program: How it started and how it’s going

By Judit Klein and Maximilian Finger

Today’s blog post is all about celebrating the many talented humans who have joined the ZOLLHOF Talent Program so far. Judit, Startup Incubation Lead and Max, Talent Program Lead look back together to reflect on where they started with the program 4 years ago and how it has become one of ZOLLHOF’s most important assets to uphold our purpose of driving entrepreneurship to build a desirable future.

Judit and Max: A trip down the Talent Program memory lane

Judit: How it all began

My first job at ZOLLHOF entailed developing the ZOLLHOF Talent Program. Our core idea was to offer a novel innovation program where students would work on real-life problems defined by our corporate partners to develop (mostly) digital solutions in a human-centric way.

The first crucial step in defining our vision for the program was to draw up the ideal talent journey and align the content accordingly. Working iteratively is part of the ZOLLHOF DNA so the program elements today look different from what we imagined 4 years ago.

Nonetheless, from the very beginning we had clarity on the impact we aim to create with every single project:

  • We want to show students that operating like a startup does not equal founding a company. We want them to experience and experiment with entrepreneurial techniques in a safe environment where they can approach problems differently than before. Seeing problems as opportunities for great ideas is a first step on that journey.
  • On the other hand, if they decide to found a startup, we want to give them (and their perhaps sceptical parents) solid reasons to prove that it is not only a great but a valid career step.
  • Last but not least, we want them to get access to the startup ecosystem, to build lasting relationships.

Max: The Talent Journey Now

Part 1: Customer & Problem Discovery

In the first part of the Talent Program you will receive input on how ZOLLHOF develops a topic or problem in a customer/user-centred way. With this first input you will then start to create qualitative interview questionnaires to interview people who are involved with the topic to understand their experiences, pain points and needs in the context of the project challenge. Furthermore, in this phase, we also teach you methods to identify interesting customer/user groups.

Part 2: Conception & Ideation

The second part of the Talent Program begins with an Ideation Workshop. In this workshop, you will be taught structured methods with which you can develop customer groups and ideas for problem solving based on the information collected and analyzed during the customer discovery phase. We will show you a concrete Ideation Process.

Part 3: Validation

The third part of the Talent Program is about turning the selected idea from the interim presentation into reality. In this phase you will test whether your idea solves the specific problem. To give you a good starting point for the realization, you will have the chance to participate in a Rapid Prototyping & UI/UX Design Workshop. You will learn the basics of digital prototyping and an introduction into the world of UI/UX design. With this foundation, you will then develop your own digital prototype and try to turn your idea into reality. Next, you will perform tests with this prototype. That means you will take this prototype and test it with the customer/user group you identified in the first part. You try to understand the customer behaviour and based on the feedback you develop the solution even further step by step.

Max’s personal experience

My entry step into ZOLLHOF was also the Talent Program. Back in the beginning of 2018, when the program officially started, I was the first Talent. The learning curve was huge and even though initially not having any clue about the project topic, by applying the human-centric design thinking approach I really became an expert in these 3 months. There I saw and experienced first hand the value in putting the human in the center when it comes to identifying problems and developing ideas.

Now being responsible for the Talent Program I really enjoy both sides. Guiding the Talents through their projects, teaching them the methods and seeing the results but also help them grow personally by exploring and figuring out together what’s next. It is really cool to see how they develop and what can happen within 3 months. Now when I walk around the office I regularly meet so many Alumni Talents who are still with us because they are working for startups or started their own company.

We have students from a vast range of educational backgrounds taking part in our Talent Program, some are prospective startup enthusiasts, others are coming from completely different fields, such as health or biology, who discover their passion for entrepreneurship and innovation with us. During the program the Talents can get insights into the ZOLLHOF/startup world and gain first-hand experience.

Our vision for the program was and is to get in touch with prospective startup enthusiasts as early as possible in their formative student years, hoping that we will see them again in the startup ecosystem in the near future. And boy we do!

Facts & Figures Deep Dive

The numbers really speak for themselves. Have a look:

Fostering the entrepreneurial ecosystem like there is no tomorrow

The amazing 125 students who joined the program and trusted us with their openness and willingness to (un)learn, exceed even our most ambitious goals that we had back in 2017.

The ZOLLHOF Talent Alumni and Alumnae contribute greatly to the ecosystem, not only in startups but also as innovative intrapreneurs bringing the entrepreneurial mindset to more established corporations.

The ZOLLHOF journey does not have to end with the Talent Program. Ex-Talents who decide to continue their entrepreneurial journey as startuppers can join our (Pre-)Incubation Program. We help them to pursue their ideas they deeply care about by providing them tailored support in the form of expert know-how, network, visibility, low-priced office space just to name a few. We also have an amazing group of individuals who contribute greatly to the development of our startups as mentors.

If you are interested in learning more about the mentoring element of our program, tune in to this podcast with Judit.

Just in case you wonder if you might be a fit for our startup support program, you can read about what matters for us in the startups we work with in this article.

Sign up for our newsletter to be informed about our upcoming open idea check dates where you can get feedback on your startup idea and whether you are incubation ready. Our next startup support program is right around the corner so stay tuned!



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