Barbara Limbeck on the startup centre gig7
Optimal start-off chances for the initial business years: The startup centre gig7 offers a perfect platform for young female founders and business women to get started and take off. We met the manager, Barbara Limbeck, for an interview.
Barbara, today you are running the female business hub gig7, but before that you worked in advertising and are a successful founder yourself. Tell us a bit about yourself!
Do you really want to know what things were like in the early 90s? Back then women in advertising was a difficult subject. When I became a mother, and wanted to have a family in 2001 I knew that I would have to call it quits in the business and give up my career. After my daughter was born I had to stay at home for six months and couldn’t return to agency business, as 24-hour availability and maximal flexibility were the norm in Frankfurt at the time in the dog-eat-dog business world. Working from home was not an option and seemed bizarre for a consultant. I guess I could have fought the way things were, but I truly didn’t even think of it.
Back in Mannheim you built up the e-commerce segment for Engelhorn. How did that come about?
I was looking for opportunities and was helping out my partner at the time with the Starcoffee chain he was bringing up. It was there that I coincidentally got in contact with Engelhorn. They wanted me to run their new internet department, which was crazy as I was a classically trained consultant. E-business was a new field at the time, but when I left Engelhorn five years later the online sector had recorded the largest growth – it truly exploded.
Sounds wild! Why did you quit?
Whenever I visit the Engelhorn web-shop I feel happy to know it’s my baby – and the whole process taught me so much. I ran the customer management team that consisted of 20 women. It was part-time but felt like 24/7 – a real part-time work trap. When a new department manager was introduced we had the idea to join forces and build up our own thing. She took over the north and I was in charge of southern Germany, so I could remain close to my family.
How did having your own business feel?
I loved it! We mostly consulted companies from the fashion industry in the area of online service management. Some big names were Betty Barclay, Breuninger, KangaRoos or Flipflop. I was super busy, we were in business and making some good money, though in the end it was another ‘women’s issue’ that got to me. I was constantly on the road and hardly ever at home. It got to the point that it was normal for my daughter that mom was never around, and that really bugged me. My husband was very supportive, but I still couldn’t keep up life that way and decided to put my job to rest.
Would you say that was the right decision in retrospect?
Knowing what I know today I would not have given up. I could have gotten a child minder, a nanny or an au-pair to help manage my time more efficiently. But I was in an all-or-nothing mindset. It was at that time I was offered to take charge of gig7 and it was just the thing I was looking for. I was highly charged and in the interview, I really realized I was the right woman for the job, as I had lived through the process myself.
Up until 2013 gig7 was less market-oriented. Was it difficult to make that transition?
The equal opportunities commissioner of the city Mannheim at the time was in charge of things back then. Things were more protective and oriented towards certain women’s issues. It was less about being entrepreneurial or pushing startups. I knew it needed to move more in that direction, but I initially had no clue how to make that happen.
What did you change first?
We quickly began assembling a fresh and highly motivated team and got rid of the old, dreary mind set, which was a lot to take for some in the beginning. I’m not part of the women’s movement, but I was very curious to see how we could tackle Female Business in the context of the growing startup culture in Mannheim: a gratifying subject matter with plenty of potential.
What does Female Business mean to you?
I come from a business background and first began to figure out what women require to build up successful businesses. In the past gig7 had urged women to become small business owners. I on the other hand have learned that a small business is not the right approach. If you want to be taken seriously in business you need to think bigger. Well-structured administrative and accounting procedures and adequate legal form are key components.
Consulting is a central issue in gig7. What advice do you give young founders?
Well founded and in-depth consulting is one of our main tasks – and we don’t mince words. Our first question is always: do you really want this? We must not deceive ourselves – women will always be the ones that have the babies, just as much as they will have to overcome particular challenges when developing their career and life plans. No matter on which level – women, and especially mothers will always have more duties than men. They don’t need special care or cuddles, but specific support and a different kind of critique. We always say: it’s fine if you want run the home and take care of the kids. But if you want to become a successful business woman we will help you take off under the best possible conditions. Our approach is very clear: we support the women that really want to get into the game.
How can we imagine such a consultancy?
It’s really simple! We get a call, set up a date for a talk and line up the right consultant for the subject matter. During a one-hour meeting the founder can outline their idea and we will suggest further steps in form of additional consultancy.
What is the „exi-coupon“?
Our focus lies in authenticity and we have a pool of freelance consultants. If you work for us you know all about being self-employed. We have specialist consultants for health care professions, the textile industry, IT technologies, social media as well as cultural and creative industries. Our seminars and workshops are custom-designed, not standard solutions. Any consultancy or event is free of charge if a business is then started in Baden-Wuerttemberg as a Total Acquisition.
What is unique about gig7?
Many people are drawn to the big startup centers in Mannheim, such as C-Hub or Mafinex. We offer an exceptionally inspiring atmosphere in our beautiful “Gründerzeit” house, that is located centrally close to Jungbusch. The Female Business competence center is our contribution to the development of the city – a unique, feel-good place in an urban startup ecosystem.
Which companies are part of gig7?
The tenant mix is really fresh. Things really took off in 2016 and we now have around 30 in the house. Business women, such as Simone Burel for example, particularly support the Female Business sector. Her startup „LU – linguistische Kommunikation“ cooperates with us. Her project „Praxis Dr. fem. Fatale“ focuses on the way women talk and uncovers the stereotypes that are still nested in so many minds. She puts on very popular and highly demanded workshops as part of the „360 Grad Female Business“ week offers. Another example: Fjolla Myftari. She pushed her business „My Rapunzel“ with very successful influencer marketing and is now beginning to scout for employees of her own. We are undoubtedly focused on Female Business, but this does not mean that we only welcome women here. Many of our teams are mixed, which is necessary to function in a modern business landscape. Calling us a startup center for female entrepreneurs is a bit misleading taking this into account. But we plan on changing that very soon, as we don’t want to exclude anyone here.
Does Mannheim have a special spirit among female entrepreneurs?
It does. But sadly, the news hasn’t caught on yet and we have to become more present. We will have a spot in this year’s „Women In The Economy Days“ and are also celebrating gig7’s 15th birthday this year. There won’t be an official ceremony though, instead we’re having a big party. There will also be a conference with some really great female business keynote speakers.
What connects you to Mannheim?
I’m from Neckarstadt-West. My parents run the oldest bakery in Laurentiusstraße – I’m a Neckarstadt urchin so to speak.
Can you imagine founding something yourself again?
If I get on everyone’s nerves here, or we improve the world and women don’t need the support we offer anymore … sure! Seriously: never say never – and I still have my old tax number.
Interview: Ralf Laubscher
Fotos: Daniel Lukac