Lilli Leirich researches, teaches and lives entrepreneurship.

Her passions are startups, pioneering spirit and new entrepreneurial cultures. Lilli Leirich is actively researching the subjects Social Entrepreneurship und Intrapreneurship, is teaching at the Dual University Baden-Württemberg (DHBW), is a consultant for startups, and has recently founded her own business called soculent. We felt it was definitely time for an interview!


Social Entrepreneurship is a hot topic at the moment, and is often defined in different ways. How would you define the subject?

The topic has finally caught on in Germany, which is great! There is no standardized definition though. The way I see it, Social Entrepreneurship is a systemic and integrated form of Corporate Social Responsibility, including the environmental dimension. So, any business that positions itself in a holistic way, meaning it is not merely focused on profit maximization, can be defined as a Social Enterprise. In a narrower sense, Social Entrepreneurship is about finding an innovative and entrepreneurial solution for a societal challenge. Making a profit is allowed!


Lilli Leirich and Carsten Huber: Founders of soculent.


A new philosophy of business?

Taking into account that we live in a capitalistic system, I would rather see it as a change of paradigm. Values are changing. Money is no longer an end in itself, but rather becoming a means to an end. In our society money has too many functions, and is present at all levels of our lives. Most people go to work to make money. They slave through their days, longing for closing time and the weekends – instead of loving what they do every day. Studies have shown, that 75% of Germans have internally quit their jobs. This is the reason we are seeing things like New Work, Social Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship – societal innovations, if you so will.


Like a second office: you can also work well in the AGÁTA Café in Mannheim.


Where does your passion for these subjects come from?

It stems from the fact that the way we do business and consume things, is just not sustainable! During my studies on business administration, I began to understand a lot of things, and I asked myself whether it was really my problem, that the neoclassical economic theory just didn’t make any sense to me. The issues lies in what we are taught, and what we are not taught at the universities! I began looking for alternatives. This led me to discover plural economics, common weal economics, and finally Social Entrepreneurship.

What perspective does Social Entrepreneurship hold?

I am convinced, that Social Entrepreneurship can be an effective way of doing things. Politics is also important, but that seems to be a lot of empty words to me, and is always closely tied to the industry, to put it mildly. Social Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is about taking action and creating something! Doing something you love, which serves the interests of society, and which makes you a living! Of course this may sound a lot easier than it really is, but it is possible!



So this is the reason for your own startup?

Indeed! I founded soculent together with Carsten Huber earlier this year. It is a cultural business. In Mannheim we have a very vital and active startup ecosystem, in which I am quite active myself. Especially over the past two years things have really taken off, and I truly feel, that I am in just the right place, at just the right time. In January of 2017 I began getting into the scene here, I dealt with the issues regarding starting up and got in touch with the spirit of the startup culture. Since then it was really only a matter of time, for me to create something of my own.



What is soculent all about?

The name comes from Social Cultural Entrepreneurship. We are comprised of two business units. The first deals with the issue, that despite having a great music scene, Mannheim is in dire need of rehearsal space. We intend to change this. Initially we looked for halls, but didn’t find any. This led to the idea of repurposing containers. These won’t be shipping containers, but larger modular units. We have secured several potential locations and investors, but are still in the development phase.



What drives you guys?

It’s not about money, though we are able to make a living from the work. It’s also not about us personally, but about the initiative itself! We want soculent to create a real cultural benefit, and to support the creative and social potential of the region. Starting with providing musicians with a place to make music, we want to create creative space – which is also our slogan.



What brought you to this niche? 

Carsten is a musician. As an artist he unites serious and entertaining music. This is a trait, which you don’t often encounter, as these are two very different forms of art. He plays in bands and for many years was also head of the orchestra office of the Mannheim Philharmonic Orchestra. As a result, he became aware of the situation in mannheim regarding rehearsal space. He visited me during my startup consultancy and told me about it. I was excited about the project, so one thing led to another. At some point I had gotten so deep into the project, that I didn’t want to quit, and then Carsten asked me onboard! 

What is the second area of your business?

We call it “Creative Paradigm”, and it deals with bringing together creative artists and businesses. We do this through several different forms of events. The program is built upon three pillars: first of which is Leadership Experience. We offer executives the possibility to achieve different perspectives on leadership, by connecting them with band-leaders or conductors. 

And the third business area? 

It deals with the issue of Social Intrapreneurship. We want to help businesses identify the change-makers, and to support them. The third pillar came about through our network, and a few funny ideas: Stakeholder Commitment Events are creative and interactive events with artists, musicians and so forth – instead of the usual climbing, bowling or soccer type of business.


The soculent-makers at a possible location for sample containers: under Mannheims Jungbuschbrücke.


What exactly does Intrapreneurship mean?

It describes a form of business, which has a close eye on what is happening internally. Employees are encouraged to develop their own ideas! Though it really depends on how businesses deal with the concept. Large corporations are sporadically implementing structures of the kind. For example they might provide times and spaces for employees to develop innovative business ideas and creative projects –  in the interest of the Company. First and foremost this kind of thing is not about creating spin-off companies.  

Companies wouldn’t want that of course …

No. But the idea is often mistaken for this. We just received cancellation for an Intrapreneuership event. Their reasoning was, that it is irresponsible to allow employees to be enticed away. This is not what we aim to do!

Your aim is to keep the people with the good ideas in the business?

Yes. Intrapreneuership is about supporting self-realization and personal fulfilment within the businesses. It is also about strengthening the identification and connection with the businesses. If a business does not support its talented employees, those that are interested in pushing their own ideas, then the danger they might lose their drive and quit, is quite high. We see a potential in every employee, to further a businesses agility and innovative capacity. If the management is not willing to make room for this potential, then it will go to waste.



Can Intrapreneuership be learned?

It can! All you need is entrepreneurial spirit and a certain skillset. Intrapreneuership is nothing more than entrepreneurship within a business. It can most definitely be learned! I am currently developing a certificate course at the DHBW Mannheim, dealing with Social Entrepreneurship, Intrapreneuership and innovation development. It will kick off coming Spring. I am also currently writing a thesis on Social Entrepreneurship, at the University of Trier. I am researching the possibilities of SocEnt within the realm of DACH-L. Regarding Intrapreneurship, I am currently planning a small explorative study, focusing on small and medium sized businesses. The research results will directly flow into the seminar. All in all, my research is very practice-oriented, as I wish to create real benefits with my work, be it for DHBW, as well as for the free market.



Last question: why Mannheim?

Well, to be honest, DHBW offered me a job, with the possibility to attain a doctorate as well. This was what I was looking for, so I came to Mannheim. In the meantime great things have happened here. For example I ran into my oldest friend from grade school, who I hadn’t been in touch with for over 15 years. I also found out, that my ancestors come from Mannheim – I am Russian German. I want to say, that I feel emotionally connected to Mannheim. And what keeps me here is the feeling, that one can really make things happen here. This feeling comes from the organizations, institutions and people of this city, which I was lucky enough to get to know and work with over the last three years.

Interview: Paul Heesch / LA.MAG

Photos: Daniel Lukac

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