René Kuhlemann (Co-Founder, CEO), Sally Maria Ollech (Head of Strategic Partnerships, Sales), and Dirk Müller-Remus (Co-Founder, CEO) © Jasper Kettner
What inspired you to found your startup?
At the age of 14, the son of the co-founder Dirk Müller-Remus was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. Inspired by his son, Dirk decided to make a substantial career change from his previous work in IT: In 2011 he founded the IT consultancy auticon that employs autistic people as IT consultants. However, approx. 80 % of autists have their special interests and skills in fields other than IT. Thus, diversicon’s purpose is to make the often hidden potentials of many autists accessible to companies.
How do you define success for yourself and your company?
To us success means changing the life of each single autistic person we work with and contributing to an inclusive and diverse society. In the next seven years we aim to create 1.000 jobs for people with autism throughout Germany.
Is there anything you’d do differently if you could do it again?
Having founded and worked for a number of start-ups, we made the experience of how difficult business gets once you cannot act independently from investors. Accordingly, it is key to complete our funding until we will reach break-even. Otherwise looking for funding distract the team from successfully developing the core business.
What problem does your product solve?
We tackle the problem of high unemployment among people with autism. They often have special skills, are intrinsically motivated and in many cases very well trained. However, they often have difficulties with social interactions and communication, resulting in problems with finding jobs. Of the ca. 800.000 people with autism living in Germany, it is assumed that 85% are unemployed. Among them are many non-activated skilled professionals. Hence, this is not only a social but an economic problem.
Where do you see your company in 1/5/10 years?
In 1 year, we’ll have its proof of concept: the first autistic people will have been trained and placed into work. In 5 years, we’ll have set up diversicon with a nationwide network of offices covering Germany. This will be the basis for our next step: transferring our approach to other clinical indications, e.g. attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression. In 10 years, we’ll have established diversicon as a European-wide platform for autism and work related-topics & services.
How are you different?
In Germany diversicon is the only organization of its kind that offers its services with a comprehensive approach, aiming to bring people into permanent job positions. Our autism-specific work-related training modules and the subsequent job placement are unique characteristics of our approach.
How often does your product/service show up in a user’s day or week?
Our participants will go through full-time training for several weeks. Together with our participants, we will work out career perspectives based on their preferences, interests and strengths. Once placed into work, we will regularly accompany them through coaching. If they have any questions or problems, we’ll be there to support them. On the other side, we also support the organisations that hire the qualified people with autism through regular coaching and consulting.
Impact: how are you doing good and building a better future?
By bringing unemployed autistic people into work, we contribute to their societal integration. Furthermore, we create opportunities for autistic and non-autistic people to interact with each other – thereby contributing to inclusion and diversity. Teams can benefit from people who think differently. Having autistic people in one’s organization can lead to more innovation, creativity and success. We want to make the potentials of autistic people apparent for organizations and in society at large.
How has the startup scene in Berlin changed?
Berlin is seeing an increasing number of startups that not only aim to make profits, but also try to tackle social problems and create value for society. We are inspired by any startup that takes an entrepreneurial approach to solving social issues, such as auticon or querstadtein. These are all social businesses that tackle a problem by empowering a former disadvantaged group such as autistic or homeless people. The field of social startups prospers within the startup scene in Berlin.
What are the pros and cons of launching your startup from Berlin?
Starting in Berlin had more or less pragmatic reasons: We are all based in Berlin and love to live and work in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Another pro was that by living and founding auticon in Berlin, Dirk and the other team members already have a strong network of individuals with autism in Berlin. One con might be that in Berlin there are few industrial companies. However, we believe that we’ll find enough partners to employ qualified personnel to make it to proof of concept in the Berlin area.
Bonus Question: Anything else that we need to know about you?
Our management team consists of one director who is autistic and one who is not. Thus, we embody what we preach. We hope that our example will give applicants the courage to take their future into their own hands and work with us. Furthermore, we believe that by being an example, we will convince future employers about the skills of people with autism. Moreover, we as a team gain valuable experience in our daily work, which we then include into the training, coaching and placement.
Diversicon was featured in “The Hundert Vol. 10 – Startups of Berlin“, October 2017.