Different Backgrounds, Same Vision.

Social enterprise ProjectTogether and the BMW Group’s MINI brand in Germany have launched a #startupnextdoor challenge. The aim: to find companies whose ideas will help to shape the transformation of our urban areas. Here is our conversation with Philipp von der Wippel, co-founder of ProjectTogether, and Wolfgang Büchel, managing director of MINI Germany. 

Mr von der Wippel and Mr Büchel, hello to both of you. Your organisations appear to be pursuing different goals – ProjectTogether develops solutions to societal challenges, from educational fairness and sustainable consumption to fostering an inclusive society and helping young start-up founders to roll out their initiatives. So ultimately, its focus is on social engagement. At MINI, operating as part of the BMW Group, the first order of business is naturally to make a profit.

Von der Wippel: For us, our society and our economy are closely bound together. If something is not good for society, it will not be good for the economy in the long run – and vice-versa. Only companies that are close to the transformative social changes of the day will continue to have a good feel for people’s needs in the future and enjoy business success. I see bringing people from different spaces together as one of our key tasks – people who need each other but would not be able to make those connections on their own.

: MINI is the “small” car brand within the BMW Group, an advantage that gives us great flexibility. So in our small way, we are made of the same stuff as a start-up founder like Philipp von der Wippel.

In the #startupnextdoor challenge, you are on the look-out for German start-ups whose ideas are intended to help shape the transformation in urban life. From over 100 applications, you have selected 15 companies, which ProjectTogether and MINI will be helping out for several months with coaching program.

Büchel: We want to give founders and employees a platform where both can learn and experience new things so they can advance themselves, their projects and their businesses.

Von der Wippel
: We have come to recognise that real change will be possible in practice if we bring people from different spaces together. If 15 start-ups and 15 executives try to understand the other side’s perspective, that may plant some seeds that could grow bigger and bigger – which may not have been achievable for a young founder on their own.

: In this joint project, MINI staff speak to start-up founders at a point when the seeds have not yet been planted. That’s the charming thing about it. In addition, from working together, we and ProjectTogether have learned not to always do things the way we were accustomed to.

How did ProjectTogether and MINI end up collaborating?

Büchel: The BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt made the initial contact with ProjectTogether via their Responsible Leaders Network, which I have been a member of for quite some time.

Von der Wippel
: I worked at the BMW Foundation as an intern four years ago. At that time, ProjectTogether was still in its infancy. Since then, the Foundation has been instrumental in supporting ProjectTogether’s development. The Foundation was a bridge for us at a time before we could build our own.

What will life in urban areas look like in ten years’ time?

Büchel: The approaches we can already see today, such as sharing and the accelerating trend of environmental awareness, will continue to grow. At the same time, we have to be very careful to keep problematic social and political tendencies in check. Otherwise, the issues we are talking will very quickly be overshadowed.

Von der Wippel
: Every city is different. But issues such as fair living, the way people work and the increased proportion of freelancers will change the face of urban areas.

Are there any other projects planned?

Von der Wippel: We’re right in the middle of the current joint project at the moment. We have a very strong foundation of trust, evaluating what works and what doesn’t. I’d say it’s a work in progress, so let’s keep it up and see how it goes.

: The advertising slogan for our MINI Cabrio is “always open”. That’s MINI in a nutshell and it’s exactly how we see this cooperative effort. Step by step, a great many things are possible.