Meet a Founder: Justin Gemeri
Today we want you to meet Justin Gemeri a very close founder of our network and the Co-Ceo of Ekipa. Justin truly believes in the innovation potential of his ( and our) generation. Bringing together digital natives with big corporates by developing new methods of collaboration is his passion.
His greatest goal is to have a real IMPACT: Be it on people, organizations or industries. Therefore, he leads a team of highly-motivated innovators with the same purpose. Developing innovators, Shaping organizations and Innovation workshops is the daily business…but learn more here:
Justin, tell us your story or your team´s story?
I officially founded ekipa with my Co-Founders Nico Heby and Linh Phung in the summer of 2018. At this time, we’ve already been working full-time on this idea for almost one year.
We founded ekipa at the Unibator at Goethe University in Frankfurt. The Unibator is the “incubator for innovation” at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.
It supports students, employees and alumni of all departments in turning developing business ideas into market-ready products and services. So that was exactly what we needed to found and grow ekipa.
We started with a small team and had our tiny office in an university building for almost 2 years. In March last year we moved to a new office in the center of Frankfurt. We couldn’t be happier. We had our own meeting room, high ceilings, and enough space for each employee — for the moment. But at the same time our team also grew and now we are in the same place as then that we have too little space. Meanwhile we are a team of 16 people. So we looked around for new office space and found what we were looking for in the neighborhood. Which is good, because we feel very comfortable in Kaiserstraße and we don’t run the risk of getting lost on the way to the new office.
Of course, our founding story consists of way more experiences than just moving to new offices. But I assume that this represents the fast growth of ekipa the best.
Why and When did you decide to start?
When I was a kid, I never said I wanted to found a startup one day.
But when I was studying economics at the Goethe University, I didn’t want to just study. That’s why I founded the student organization impress! e.V. with Nico in my third semester (www.impress-ev.de).
To build something, to create, to make it grow: The accomplishment I found in it surpassed everything else. That’s why it was clear to Nico and me very quickly that it had to continue in the same way.
And so, at the end of our studies, we decided that we wanted to start our own business — and we haven’t regretted it since.
It´s an hard task, but how would you summarize your journey as a founder?
I would describe my journey as a founder as a roller coaster ride with something new around every corner. There are many ups and downs and there are very stressful days when I don’t know if I’m coming or going, but at the end of the day I’m very grateful for this journey and I enjoy it very much. When I look back on 2018, I can hardly believe that it all happened in two and a half years. In the meantime, we already have our second projects going with clients and are starting projects of a size that was unthinkable just a year ago. Besides the business side, it is still very inspiring for me to see how many young people are able to develop their potential through ekipa, work with large companies and even get a job with them. As a founder, that of course makes me very proud. But it also makes me proud of our team, which works hand in hand and without them, ekipa would not be where it is today.
How is your company overcoming the pandemic situation?
First of all, we have survived the pandemic so far, and we know that is a privilege and we are very grateful for that as a small company.
However, things didn’t look good for us at first. A lot of clients were dropping out and cancelling on us day by day, so hope was fading.
We knew we had to do something and I remember exactly how we sat down with the team one day and started to restructure. With that restructuring, we got things back on track.
Restructuring, however, did not mean that we changed anything in the team structure. On the day of the first lockdown, we organized a meeting with the entire team and communicated in a completely transparent way: If we don’t generate one more cent of revenue, we will survive 5 months. And during that time, none of you will be laid off.
Since we were already used to working remotely, we didn’t have to make any big changes to the way we worked at first. We introduced new meetings that simplified the whole situation and arrangements and made it so that we could continue to work together as best we could, that ekipa could continue.
That was the step we needed to take courage and move on. And luckily we kept going. Because after that, things started to go uphill. We were able to win new clients and made the situation work for us, especially in the wake of digitalization. This gave rise to many new opportunities that brought ekipa forward.
In a recent post you compared Frankfurt vs Berlin and your decision about settling in our region. Can you kind of summarize your experience and maybe some inputs from others?
I have to say upfront: Of course, I don’t know the Berlin startup ecosystem nearly as well as the one in Frankfurt.
And yet I am extremely enthusiastic about our Frankfurt ecosystem.
I am not someone who attends 5 startup events every week or takes every networking opportunity.
But on our journey with ekipa so far, I have met many startup founders.
Especially at Unibator, the startup center of Goethe University and our home for the first 2 years of ekipa.
What excites me most about this: the willingness to help!
I realize again and again how important and helpful it is to exchange ideas with like-minded people. People who have overcome the same hurdles. People who know what it means to build a startup. Who know the ups and downs.
You don’t usually find something like that in your immediate circle of friends, because how many found a startup after graduating?
However, we have met great founders and startups who have accompanied our journey — and from my point of view, that is the most important thing about the Frankfurt startup ecosystem!
INNOVATION MADE BY THE DIGITAL GENERATION is your signature as a team. Working with the Future Leaders of Tomorrow is not only impacting but a big Responsibility. As a young founder and young startup what are the next big milestones, projects or steps for you and your team?
The next big thing coming up is definitely moving into our second, bigger office.
With the bigger office we also want to get a bigger team, by the end of the year we want to grow to 22 people to join us on the journey of ekipa.
In May, we will launch the biggest project in ekipa history. It is a global challenge based on the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
We’re very excited and looking forward to seeing what 2021 will bring.
Stay tuned 😉
More about ekipa´s team here