• Brain City Berlin

"Nachfolge in Deutschland": HWR Berlin Business Succession Initiative up for EU grant

13.09.2018 | Corporate succession: a sensitive topic. Brain City Ambassador Professor Birgit Felden of the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR Berlin) is helping family businesses to address the issues related to corporate succession.

The "Nachfolge in Deutschland" (i. e. Succession in Germany) was the German winner in the preliminary round for the 2018 European Enterprise Promotion Awards, the winner of which will be announced in November.

With entrepreneurial spirit and self-confidence - Studying entrepreneurship at the HWR Berlin


Prof. Birgit Felden is Director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship, German Mittelstand and Family Firms at the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR Berlin). The Brain City Ambassador has been researching trends and the significance of SMEs, family businesses, and corporate succession issues for over 25 years and heads the degree program in Entrepreneurship and Corporate Succession at HWR Berlin.


She speaks with Brain City Berlin about her research and the HWR initiative:


Brain City Berlin: Prof. Felden, can you explain to us what has kept you so interested in the topic of entrepreneurship and succession for more than 25 years?

Prof. Dr. Birgit Felden: The topic is exciting for several reasons. I'm in all the different approaches that people take in addressing these issues. Everyone thinks and ticks differently. It never gets boring and is always topical. It is also interdisciplinary, with strategic, legal, tax, and emotional aspects to it. In the end, it has a lot to do with communication, because coming up with a succession plan requires balancing the interests of the various people involved. They need to talk to one another.

Brain City Berlin: You run the Entrepreneurship and Corporate Succession program at the HWR Berlin. What do students study in this program and who is its target audience?

Prof. Dr. Birgit Felden: The course is aimed at all those who expect to run their own businesses someday, whether they have an idea for a start-up or want to take over one of the more than 100,000 companies in Germany that are looking for qualified successors. The entrepreneurship and corporate succession program at the HWR Berlin helps give students a professional, yet practical and systematic basis for implementing these plans. The courses are offered in the evenings, during the day, and also in a blended online format with face-to-face meetings. It leaves students enough time to start realizing their ideas while still enrolled. Equipped with this foundation, students learn to assess and weigh possible risks and opportunities. Courses in strategy management, negotiation, communication and presentation techniques prepare them to master future tasks they will face as managers with success.

Brain City Berlin: To what extent does Berlin play a special role in your research?

Prof. Dr. Brigit Felden: I find Berlin to be the ideal mix of young, motivated, and curious students and creative and committed colleagues. The partners here in Berlin are very open. The policymakers are also here, making this a dynamic, growing, and exciting environment. That's very appealing to me. Here I have everything I need to be able to work, research, and teach successfully. The combination of practice and research, especially for an application-oriented research area like mine, is particularly important. This is not research in some ivory tower. Instead, you get data from the field and put the findings into practice directly. I've been an entrepreneur myself for years and know how important research can be.

"Business Succession: Starting now!" The success of the corporate succession initiative at HWR Berlin


Corporate succession is a topic that particularly affects small and medium-sized enterprises. Careful planning and comprehensive knowledge are indispensable, but not always easily accessible. For this reason, the Institute for Entrepreneurship, German Mittelstand and Family Firms at the Berlin School of Economics and Law (HWR Berlin) has launched the "Succession in Germany" initiative.


The initiative offers an independent platform for sharing knowledge for sharing comprehensive information on the subject of corporate succession, funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy. On the website, visitors will find pages dedicated to the various forms and phases of corporate succession. There is also an online wiki on the topic of succession and an analytics tool that offers a simple introduction to a complex topic.


Brain City Berlin: Why was the "Succession in Germany" initiative launched?

Prof. Dr. Birgit Felden: The topic is of enormous economic importance. In Germany, there are usually about 100,000 companies looking for the next generation to run them. As the society ages and more business owners retire, a failure to provide for succession could threaten a number of companies and thus also jobs.

The challenges that come with this complex topic include business owners' inadequate pension savings, worries about the future viability of the company, and a lack of successors nearby. Things are particularly precarious, especially in eastern Germany, due to the region's peculiar history after the fall of Communism (e.g. less time to save for retirement, lots of small companies, lower population density). 

But these issues have failed to receive much attention from policymakers or the media. People don't realize just how critical this enormous challenge will be, with consequences for individual businesses as well as for the economy as a whole. This is already clear when you realize that most contact persons assigned to succession issues at chambers of commerce and at banks are also assigned to work with start-ups. Certain groups of potential successors (such as women) need to be addressed more adequately. Addressing those potentially interested who are younger is going to require more intensive multimedia communication. The initiative is going to work on all of these issues.

Brain City Berlin: What concrete help are you offering?

Prof. Dr. Birgit Felden: The "Succession in Germany" initiative anchors the topic of corporate succession both broadly and for specific target groups. Public awareness and perception is increased through contemporary, multimedia communication channels such as www.nachfolge-in-deutschland.de and other tools that are continually being expanded. The www.nachfolge-in-deutschland.de website is a unique information and knowledge portfolio.

Prof. Dr. Birgit Felden: Both retiring owners and their successors as well as those advising them are provided with a modern, easy-to-understand, and systematic instrument offering comprehensive and practical support for all upcoming succession issues. The complexity of the topic is explained meaningfully, the building blocks are shown logically, and formulated in a holistic and sustainable approach.

The interactive succession timetable is like a roadmap describing the typical stations in a succession process. By offering a clear structure, it provides an overview of the topic and is now available in 12 languages for download as a pdf and also in a folded brochure. The use of the entire website is free of charge and does not require registration or login. The site was designed to be exceptionally easy-to-use, so that anyone interested in the topic of corporate succession is addressed.

The modern look deliberately targets not only those who are retiring and family members considering taking over the family business, but also those who are coming into contact with the topic of corporate succession for the first time in their professional careers. A Facebook channel has been developed with quizzes and up-to-date content that will attract younger target groups.

The ideas and practical help have been well received

The success of the initiative has been noticed, having been selected as the German entry for the 2018 European Enterprise Promotion Award. An expert jury of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy selected the "Succession in Germany" initiate as one of two German winners and submitted them to the competition for the European prize. The winner will be announced at an award ceremony in Graz in November 2018. Regardless of the outcome, it is already clear that the topic of corporate succession is a subject dear to many entrepreneurs, young and old alike.


Brain City Berlin: How do you evaluate the success of the "Succession in Germany" initiative and what impact has it had on the development of the project?

Prof. Dr. Birgit Felden: The initiative has received a lot of positive feedback, more than we were expected, from both the business community and SME multipliers. The high demand for practical tools and the thousands of hits our site has received show that there is a great need for knowledge and recommendations. The feedback from practical partners with offers of support, retrievals of material, and many articles in industry journals show that the project is making a significant contribution to making the topic of corporate succession more widely known among different target groups.

That's where we come in. In addition to the continuous improvement and further expansion of the network, ongoing updates like nachfolg-o-mat 2.0 are planned for the future. The tools and websites are continuously being expanded and added to. The large number of authors in the wiki, the development of an English-language wiki, and the European Interreg project (STOB region) will continue to keep the topic of corporate succession fresh for years to come. A key success factor is the long-term plans for this project. Once the instruments have been created, they offer long-term benefits for all target groups with little maintenance.


Brain City Berlin: Thank you very much and good luck in the competition for the 2018 European Entrepreneurship Promotion Award!