Andrej Safundzic wants to improve the lives of as many people as possible. This desire has already motivated the 23-year-old to launch a number of successful businesses. Safundzic completed a bachelor’s degree at the Technical University of Munich and, thanks to a one-year grant from the DAAD, at Harvard University. He is currently studying informatics and business administration at Stanford University in California, likewise with DAAD funding.
Mr Safundzic, you already established an educational start-up in Uganda at the age of 18. How did this idea come about?
Many aid projects do not work well because the non-governmental organisations behind them are too large and bureaucratic. If you want to solve a problem quickly, it’s easier with a start-up. I had personal contacts at a school in Uganda, one of the world’s poorest countries, and was wondering which problem I would be best able to help with. Because of the high level of youth unemployment, most young people in Uganda eke out a living for themselves as micro entrepreneurs. And yet they are taught nothing about business at school. My co-founders and I wanted to change this.
So what did you do?
We founded the “EduGlobe” start-up, drew up a curriculum, trained teachers at the school and then continued to supervise the project. Very soon we found that other schools were also interested. Because it was going so well, we expanded the idea in 2017 to include Ugandan universities: this new initiative – “StartHubAfrica” – helps students to set up a new business. At first the project was financed entirely by a foundation and crowdsourcing, though now training is also offered to Ugandan companies that pay for the courses.
Quality education for all is one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. How important do you believe education is – and to what extent do your activities help to promote it?
Education is an essential prerequisite for achieving other Sustainable Development Goals, too – a world without hunger and poverty, better health, less inequality. It was wonderful to see that many people we had trained were indeed able to live better afterwards. In 2018 I went to Harvard on a DAAD scholarship. While there I considered how I could reach even more people. I realised while reading something about Germany’s federal budget that even small technical improvements in certain processes would result in considerable savings – money that could then be used for schools, for example. I then simply sent an e-mail to Federal Chancellery Head Helge Braun, and it turned out that he was actually interested! So I was able to set up “Tech4Germany”.
The start-up motivates young, talented software developers and other experts to find solutions to the German government’s urgent IT problems. How does this work?
The techies are recruited entirely without any bureaucracy – there is no formal call for applications, for instance. They spend three months working for the German government and receive a grant to support them. By now we have worked with five federal ministries on eight projects. The first scholarship holders designed an online auction platform that the government uses to sell goods confiscated for example by customs officers. In March 2020, Tech4Germany co-organised the Hackathon #WirVSVirus to find creative solutions for combating the corona pandemic.
Tech4Germany became a new federally-owned company in September 2020. You had already handed over the running of the start-up to your co-founders in 2019 – why?
They will be able to run and further develop the company much better than I ever could. My strength lies in setting up a business itself rather than expanding it. I find that many people are too risk-averse – which is why I prefer to do something more risky.
Is California still the best place for IT start-ups?
Absolutely, the atmosphere is unique! In other places, you hear things like “Good idea, but what if....?” Instead of scepticism, you sense an enormous optimism here, which is why the major tech companies emerge in California That said, I believe that you should always keep the point of a start-up in mind. For me, adding value for society is the most important thing.