25. February 2021

Starting a business – then and now

What Bestec CEO Rainer Hammerschmidt can pass on to the team of the start-up JUNA

Rainer Hammerschmidt, Bestec GmbH © WISTA Management GmbH
Rainer Hammerschmidt, founder of Bestec GmbH, which is specialised on ultra-high vacuum technology. © WISTA Management GmbH
Julie Winter and Nandi Scherbl © WISTA Management GmbH
The business founders Julie Winter (l.) and Nandi Scherbl brought their four-legged friend to WISTA’s co-working space © WISTA Management GmbH

Rainer Hammerschmidt was one of the first entrepreneurs of the Technology Park Adlershof. He enjoys passing on his experience to prospective business founders.

Adlershof, thirty years ago. German reunification: Institutes were liquidated and many people lost their livelihood. Rainer Hammerschmidt was 30 years old and worked as an engineer at the Central Institute for Scientific Instrument Engineering, which was part of the East German Academy of the Sciences. “The West didn’t have a facility like that, nobody knew what to do with it. The end. But we wanted to keep on doing what we were doing,” he says. To do what they were doing meant creating high-precision laser measurement technology. With considerable world market potential.

And so Hammerschmidt took the next step and founded his own company together with Christian Rempel, a fellow physicist. Bestec. The main problem: While much was government regulated in socialist East Germany, they now had to prove themselves in a completely new economic system very quickly. Hammerschmidt started by organising a type of “internship” for himself, as he calls it, at the company of an acquaintance in West Berlin. His curriculum included customer focus, sales, and bookkeeping. Even a perfect product would be worthless without learning these basics. Thirty years later, and this is still a relevant for today’s founders.

Bestec now employs 35 people, built its own headquarters in 2013, and has two successful business segments: vacuum compatible optics and deposition systems. “We are not an off-the-shelf company. We do everything according to customer requirements,” says Hammerschmidt with emphasis. This highly specialised technology is distributed all across the world, mainly for research but also for manufacturing companies like Carl Zeiss Industrielle Messtechnik GmbH in Oberkochen.

“We had to deal with great uncertainty for the first 15 years. This is where support in the family was particularly important. Not only because you’re dealing with existential questions, things like paying off debt,” says Hammerschmidt, looking back. Speaking of money: His advice is to keep as much of it in the company as possible and to be frugal with distribution of profits to shareholders. This helps to survive times of crisis. One should also not rush one’s fences when it comes to growth. “Good cooperation partners are important. We have found the right conditions in Adlershof, including numerous associations and platforms enabling a lively exchange like the Technologiekreis.”

Julie Winter and Nandi Scherbl, too, want to contribute to these good framework conditions in the future. The two business experts are on a mission: to help women to lead their own companies – permanently. Help them to focus better, target customers, and thus drastically reduce the number of insolvencies: Winter and Scherbl are bubbling with enthusiasm. Not only are there too few women starting a business, but many also lack the necessary push, especially in the second founding phase, says Scherbl. “So many women do amazing things and have all these additional in-depth qualifications. But then they miss the next step to becoming successful: to leave the mom-and-pop shop behind, to focus more, and to better target their audiences.”

To assist female solo entrepreneurs in these matters is what the two women’s business idea is all about. “There are many individual solutions in this field – we want to create a platform with JUNA,” says Winter. They are building a virtual space, where female founders can become members to receive coaching, where they find tutorial videos and other training opportunities, and where they can network and enter a lively exchange with a community.

When Scherbl and Winter started their own business in 2020, they quit their jobs to do so. Scherbl worked for a venture capital fund before. Winter had already been working in start-up support in a Berlin-based accelerator programme: “Starting a business mean giving up security. But for that you get to do things your way.”

The two JUNA makers also receive coaching – as part of the Adlershof Founder's Lab. It helps them with networking and also provides them with a monthly allowance of 2,000 euros – a welcome cash injection until the platform is fully developed.

Where do Adlershof-based founders, old and new, see their companies in thirty years? The two women in their late twenties can’t help but smile at that timescale. JUNA is to become THE platform for female entrepreneurs in German-speaking countries. Rainer Hammerschmidt, on the other hand, is already mulling over his exit and how to pass his company over to a worthy successor – to make sure Bestec will still be successful in thirty years time.

By Uta Deffke for Adlershof Journal