Originally Published on November 17, 2016.

We caught up with One Week Experience founder, Svanja Kleemann, as she reflects on the successes and growth of One Week Experience, as well as the introduction of their new program, One Week Azubi. Read on to find out about the highs and lows of starting the company, the inner workings of the program, and lessons learned throughout the process.

Three tops pieces of advice for people thinking of starting their own social business:

  • When you know that your idea has potential and you get proof of it, never give up!
  • It's all about the right people
  • Try to get a tech co-founder

What was your motivation for starting One Week Experience?

Actually, I would have liked to have a one week experience of my potential future when I was in high school – I felt kind of lost and I did not want to do something just because it was recommended to me. I wanted to find a future path fitting my talents and interests. Since there was no possibility to get an authentic taste of my future, I decided to choose according to my career expectations. Back then I thought that I would love to work for an international organization like the UN and decided to choose my study program according to the CVs of important delegates. Later on I realized that I could have studied anything and that a more technical study program would probably have fit my talents and interests better.

So tell us, how exactly does it work?

One Week Experience offers two free programs: One Week Student and One Week Azubi. Basically, high school students or graduates can either shadow a university student or an apprentice for one week. This usually includes the spare time as well. The idea is that youngsters get an authentic insight into their potential future and peer-2-peer advice from a buddy. So far we have more than 7,000 users. One Week Student is offered all over Germany, One Week Azubi is a new program launched in July this year and is offered in Berlin so far. In 2017, One Week Azubi will also be offered in North Rhine-Westphalia.

How have teachers and academic institutions reacted to the program?

Teachers, school advisors, and social workers are very encouraging and fully endorse our decision to expand our offer to One Week Azubi. They grasp the incredible possibility that our program offers to youngsters and appreciate the difference to conventional orientation programs. Our partner schools release students from regular classes, providing them with the opportunity to become a One Week Student or a One Week Azubi so that they can find out about different educational options, and learn much more about themselves. As our community grows, we are starting to organize teacher hangouts and are looking forward to interesting exchanges about education and social inequality.     

You recently launched One Week Azubi - what kind of opportunities are available and how do you identify partner organizations?

Because studying at a university is not the only option after school and since we want to become a holistic orientation platform, we decided to launch One Week Azubi in July 2016. This new program has the same innovative approach as One Week Student. High school students or graduates have the possibility to shadow an apprentice for one week and get an authentic peer-2-peer experience of the daily routine of a vocational training in this area.

So far, we are cooperating with eight companies in Berlin and two in North Rhine-Westphalia. Those are very big and well-known companies, such as Zalando SE. But there are also smaller and less known companies such as Oscar Böttcher GmbH & Co. KG. These companies offer a variety of apprenticeships, such as industrial management assistant, designer, physiotherapist or kindergarten teachers.

How are you funded?

At the beginning, One Week Student was funded by scholarships and donations. To be more independent, we decided to cooperate with companies and universities. Our most recent project One Week Azubi is being fully funded by the Prof. Otto Beisheim Foundation in Munich for a pilot phase of 18 months. In future, One Week Azubi will hopefully be a program generating income. We will offer online tools for recruiting and branding to companies and universities. For instance, companies can offer trainings to our most engaged users and thereby get in touch with our high potentials. Our active students, on the other hand, profit from those bonus programs which they can attend. Those bonus programs are exclusively offered to students who have already conducted trial weeks for High School students – therewith we close the circle of social impact.

What have been your top three learnings since starting One Week Experience?

First, when you know that your idea has potential and you get proof of it, never give up!

After finishing my masters I had to finance my life with a loan to be able to fight for the first funding for One Week Experience which lasted for about five months. During this time we were fighting a lot to bootstrap and get a longer-term funding. None of our funding plans worked out and by March, I did not know how I would pay my rent in April. We became creative (during this time we also developed the new program One Week Azubi) and I convinced one of our social angels to give us a loan to bridge the gap. Today, we are employing four full-time and three part-time employees (plus two consultants) – and we are still hiring.

Second, it is all about the right people.

We had a lot of luck with running into great people who really burn for our vision and idea. This is worth more than anything. Of course, I am absolutely passionate about my idea and startup, but how does it help if my employees do not have the sparkle in their eyes when telling potential companies or students about our social startup and programs?

The people of your network are also very important. There are so many brilliant people out there from whom an entrepreneur can learn. One Week Experience would not be as successful if we did not have such great supporters as Björn Strüwer, Christian Vollmann or Verena Pausder!

Third, try to get a tech co-founder.

We had some really bad experiences in this field. We definitely had a lot of bad luck running into developers who were unable to cope with our project – we wasted a lot of time and lost a lot of potential income. The problem was that we did not have any technical background and were not able to assess the work progresses – that way we lost two years in developing our new website (which will be relaunched in the beginning of 2017). At the moment, we are searching for a developer who is also passionate about One Week Experience and who wants to become a co-founder.

What is next for One Week Experience?

The next step is relaunching our platform with bonus programs for our active users and offers for our partners. In order to be able to sell our offers in the beginning of 2017, we are building up our sales unit at the moment. Furthermore, we are preparing to roll out our One Week Azubi program in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017.

What makes you a changer?

When I was a kid, I already had a lot of thoughts about the meaning of life. I was often trying to imagine what would happen after death - it scared me not to know what will come next, whether we would just become nonexistent and if all we did on earth was senseless. Those thoughts made me develop the deep wish to use my life to do something with meaning.

For me, it makes sense to give something back to society, to make a change. I already did that back in high school with a project for Romanian orphans. At the moment I am changing society with the social startup One Week Experience and I am sure I will do it with my next ideas as well.