Prof. Bernd Kracke – 80 per cent make it – Start-up businesses in the cultural and creative industries

Of all the growth sectors, our cultural and creative industries are the most diverse, most intertwined and most vibrant. In 2010, there were 120,000 start-ups in Germany. A piece of particularly good news is that 80 per cent of them were able to establish themselves in the market after only three years, says the KfW Group. In Hessen, the scene has grown to be­­come one of the largest tax payers, as it has more employees than any other in­­dustry. Seen as a whole, this represents a serious economic factor.

The cultural and creative industry plays somewhat of a bridging role between the working world which has been stripped of emotion on the one hand, and living a good, meaningful life on the other. Keyword: work-life balance. Style is welcome too. If you are thinking of handmade shoes now – that’s fine. But don’t forget about Aldi, C&A and Ikea. It’s the own style that makes all the difference.

The stylistic devices of art can be used to turn abstract ideals into concrete experiences. This is how creative thinkers support and promote the societal and economic innovation process. Style is therefore the central skill start-up entrepreneurs are expected to have. But style does not just refer to lifestyle; it also includes urban design, media de­­sign, corporate design and product design. Style is the attitude that controls behaviour and the fastest way to communicate. But most of all, style allows a very clear differentiation: “This is me! This is not me!”


Clear differentiations, in turn, are survival strategies. But they only work if they are perceived. For this reason, every competition is first and foremost a com­­petition of perception. However, the per­­­ceptive faculty of the hoped-for audience is rather limited. There will be no getting through without creativity; without new stylistic devices.


As a result – and not least due to the new media – a diversified and permanent demand is generated. The consequence: there is plenty of work to be done. This is the charm of and the opportunity both for the industry as a whole and for every individual who starts up a business. Yet self-employment starts long before this.

Finding one’s own style and cultivating it starts even during the vocational train­­ing. Even though Lessing says that “he who has one style, has no style”, you have to start with one. And this first one becomes most frequently apparent in early works, which reveal the necessary talent. Self-employment also re­­quires a certain amount of independence, even individualism, distinctiveness. But that’s not all. A study conducted by the Ger­­man Institute for Economic Re­­search (Deutsches Institut für Wirt­­schafts­­for­­schung – DIW) found that “artists are happier with their work than anyone else”. The reason: they thrive in their work.

Of course, this happiness still has to make regular payments to cover em­­ployees, rent and invoices. There is no self-employment without financial independence. Creative thinking and entrepreneurial spirit therefore need to be­­come one. In real life, it is common for partners to start a business together. While one of them devotes himself to the creative product, the other one takes care of management.

Die Designer Sandra Tan und Johannes Schiebe von „Studio Taschide“ sind Absolventen der HfG Offenbach,

Die Designer Sandra Tan und Johannes Schiebe von „Studio Taschide“
sind Absolventen der HfG Offenbach,

Art and business administration – can that work out? The art dealer and management consultant Helge Achenbach has observed that “ingenuity, openness and taking consistent action are characteristics that entrepreneurs and artists share.” The DIW and the Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA) expand on Achenbach’s observations. They re­­­­searched which general character traits an entrepreneur needs. The result: emo­­tional stability (that is, for example, keep­­ing cool even when faced with set­­backs), a capacity for enthusiasm, so­­cia­­bility and the aforementioned open­­ness to new expe­­­­riences. The more highly developed these characteristics are, the greater the proba­­bility of business success.

Individuelles Produktdesign ist das Marken­­zeichen der Absolventen  Thilo Schwer, Jens Pohlmann und Sybille Fleckenstein (von links) vom Designstudio „speziell“,

Individuelles Produktdesign ist das Marken­­zeichen der Absolventen
Thilo Schwer, Jens Pohlmann und Sybille Fleckenstein (von links) vom Designstudio „speziell“,

HfG Offenbach, for example, is one of the art colleges which specifically prepare their students for making it on their own in the free market economy. It has a dedicated office for knowledge transfer which, among other things, initiates series of lectures dealing with topics related to starting up a business, and offers a wide range of advice to its stu­­dents and graduates.

One of the widely noted contributions came from Sophia Muckle, a product designer and HfG graduate. She wrote a paper entitled “Parcours – Existenz­­gründung für Designer” (A Course on Starting a Design Business). It de­­scribes a structured approach and was first published as a PDF. The demand was unbelievable. Many used the paper in classes. In 2006, it was published as a book by the renowned publishing house Hermann Schmidt Mainz and is currently in its third edition.

Every person who ventures into self-employment is breaking new ground. But there are navigational aids, including the insightful encounters between students and experienced company founders who get involved as mentors. As a “side effect”, they are laying the foundation for a new start-up culture in Hessen.

An example: the HfG series of events “Wege in die Selbstständigkeit – Unter­­nehmer stellen sich vor” (paths to self-employment – entrepreneurs introduce themselves). One of the seasoned entre­­­­preneurs is Gregor Ade, a HfG graduate who is today a managing partner at the Peter Schmidt Group, Frankfurt.



In der Werkstatt für Freie Druckgrafik

Or Ralph Anderl, who gives lectures on how a three-person living-room project turned into a medium-sized business with 125 employees and a turnover of more than ten million euros.

Or Kurt Friedrich, founder of dialog-plan, who was already heading a product de­­sign office during his time at HfG. Stefan Hauser and Laurent Lacour, founders of the corporate design agency of the same name. Stefan Karp, HfG graduate and founder of ma ma Interactive Sys­­tem Design. Oliver Raszweski, formerly of HfG, now a painter and artist. Axel Ricker, founder of the brand agency ID4, who worked for Scout Maxi, among others, while studying at HfG. Or Sebas­­tian Herk­­ner, who has received multiple awards, including the German Design Award. Following his studies at HfG, he founded his own studio. He works for prestigious companies and now brings his experience to joint projects with HfG students.

In other encounters, the focus is on pro­­­­ject management, positioning and special­­isation, on implementing unusual strateg­­ies or on how to establish and maintain contacts and networks. In short, on everything needed to complement creative thinking.

Despite all of this, there is one thing we should never lose sight of: creative think­­ing is not an end in itself; it is merely a means to an end. The objective is to do good for others and to foster social and economic development. At the same time, no one should delude him or herself. At the end of the day, the human factor is decisive, and we as humans are not cal­­culable constructions. So is it an incalculable business? Well, if it were easy, anyone could do it. On the other hand, 80 per cent of start-ups make it.

Portrait_KrackeThe author studied at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg and at the M.I.T. Center for Advanced Visual Studies in Cambridge. From 1999 until 2006, he held the professorship for Electronic Media at HfG Offen­­­bach, where he founded the Cross­­Media­­Lab. In 2001, Prof. Kracke be­­came the Dean of the Faculty of Visual Com­­munications. He has been President of the HfG Offenbach since 2006.