Executive Master in Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership (EMDIEL)
Meet the Alumni: Carolin Ehrensberger, Class of 2023

Carolin Ehrensberger - Executive Master in Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership Alumnus (Class of 2022) - ESCP Business SchoolPursuing her dream of starting her own entrepreneurial venture while continuing her career in the software industry, Carolin is balancing both roles. Find out in our interview how the EMDIEL has helped her in this journey and learn about the progress of her venture, Coach-Wave.

How did the EMDIEL experience start for you?

After studying business for my Bachelor’s, I embarked on a very successful career in a software company in the field of real estate, where I was part of the leadership for the product & strategy department. I started the EMDIEL while working my job, knowing that I wanted to create my own venture at some point. Exploring various academic options, I knew I wasn’t willing to leave my job and go back to studying full-time. A classic MBA could have been an option, but didn’t really align with what I had in mind, since I couldn’t see myself in corporate all my life. Then suddenly I found the EMDIEL. The programme offered the outlook of developing personally, building something of my own, and achieving what made me satisfied and happy.

How did the EMDIEL help you in conceiving the idea for Coach-Wave?

During the EMDIEL, we were tasked to go out in teams and talk to people in the streets about their failures. This proved to be a challenging and yet enriching assignment. Failure is a deeply personal topic, surprisingly it didn’t need a lot of persuasion to get people to open up about it. The team's big realization was that people have a lot to talk about but often they don't know who to talk to. Our team felt that everybody has their own backpack of insecurities and topics that they struggle with. The good thing is: we all have the resources within ourselves to deal with them, we just need to learn how. So this was where we got really excited about this. Shortly after, in my private life, I was trying to find a coach to work on some topics, have some support to take some big decisions and my whole personal experience with that process was quite challenging. I eventually managed to find a fitting coach but was convinced that this should be so much easier!

What is the goal of Coach-Wave?

Mental well-being is a deeply meaningful topic for me. Coach-Wave as a platform facilitates the process of bringing together coaches and people who are looking for a coach. They also support the whole coaching journey in the long term. The coaching market is very intransparent. People are often unable to get high-quality coaches - with Coach-Wave they can have access to a curated list of highly qualified and certified coaches and psychologists and get the transparency that is very rare in this market. A good coach can help to prevent burnout, possibly even depression - if you start early, understand what's going on and set your goals & visions. With the current state of mental wellness globally, I want people to be able to solve problems before they get too overwhelming to handle.

How did you take this EMDIEL project to the next level?

I chose to develop Coach-Wave using a bootstrapped model and the startup has not taken any external funding. The idea was to build the basic platform and get product-market fit before securing external investments.  To be honest, I’m surprised about how it turned out so far. When starting to talk to people, the topic really seemed to resonate, which is how I was able to build a team of eight people (who have their own full-time jobs) who believe in the vision. One of my fellow EMDIEL participants, David, is handling marketing strategy, other team members are acquaintances from my corporate career. With regards to building the product, we first went through a long discovery process - conducting interviews and surveys, and verifying if the problem we assumed actually existed.  After that, we built the smallest minimum viable product version, tested and refined it over time by iterating it and trying different entries into the market. The first idea was a B2C approach, but we faced a lot of hurdles with that, mainly with the marketing aspects. So we pivoted into some B2B approaches- this meant tie-ups with institutions, schools, universities, etc. Since then, we have received a lot of promising responses and many people have applied to become coaches in the team. When I told them that I could not compensate them for their time at the moment, they simply said “It's okay, I love the idea, I just want to participate”. That is a testament to how much belief they have in what I hope to achieve with this startup.

What aspects of the EMDIEL were most helpful for you, also in overcoming hardship in your own entrepreneurial journey?

One of the biggest assets of the EMDIEL are the people involved in it. During the entire programme, I was surrounded by an amazing group of people who enriched my knowledge and me as a person. The kindness and openness of the group were incredible and I thoroughly enjoyed the module weeks in different places all over the world.  Many students already had businesses and their perspectives were very helpful. I benefited from the network, the connections I built, and enjoyed discovering a lot of different companies, and ecosystems.  When I ventured out on my own, I had to go on this journey alone in the beginning, as the idea was new and I hadn’t found my teammates yet. The hardest part was marching on without anybody to push me while working with a totally blank sheet. The dynamic changed when the first people started coming on board and momentum built up. These situations help you learn a lot about yourself: What motivates you? What do you need? What kind of setup? Are you a team player? Are you a solopreneur who wants to do it all by themselves? I quickly realized that solopreneurship was not for me. A startup has a million challenges every day and having a team helps make things a bit easier.

Finally, who would you say should embark on an entrepreneurial journey?

I can only speak for myself, but for me, entrepreneurship has always been a personal journey. A career takes a lot of time in our lives. It’s possible to look at it as only paying your bills but I wanted to truly find satisfaction and purpose in what I do. I believe if people can figure out what it is for them, then they can make much better decisions on their next moves.  My advice is therefore to peer deep within and understand what you want out of life. Everyone is going through life on an individual journey and the decision to create something should be made through deep introspection and not peer pressure.