Meet our graduates: Johanna Kühner

Johanna took part in the Journey in the summer of 2018 in Bologna, Munich and Leoben, and is now based in Berlin, Germany.

Hi, Johanna. Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Together with a great team, we are working on founding a cooperative supermarket in Berlin called SuperCoop. I’m also working at the Social Entrepreneurship Network Germany and studying Innovation Management, Entrepreneurship & Sustainability at TU Berlin.

SuperCoop is a community-owned supermarket that enables consumers to shape our food system and shop more sustainably through cooperation, participation and transparency. Thereby we foster sustainable consumption and fair supply chains.
Every member of the cooperative is a co-owner, works three hours a month in the daily operations and can participate democratically. By saving operating costs, having a transparent margin and reinvesting the profits, high-quality and sustainable products can be offered at fair prices.

In June, we launched our first prototype and started selling products with a focus on bulk products and vegetables that do not fit the strict requirements (size, shape, color) of most retail stores. Now our focus is on further building a strong community, officially founding the cooperative and choosing a suitable location for the project. We see the project as part of a European, and maybe even global, movement for more cooperative business models, rethinking ownership and building a more resilient, carbon neutral economy.

How did your experiences of doing the Journey help you on your onward career path?

Taking part in the Journey strengthened my belief that entrepreneurship is a powerful tool to contribute to systemic change.

During my experiences with Climate-KIC I’ve realized that entrepreneurship is way more powerful when we do not only focus on the innovation of certain products – elements of a system – but on the connection between different elements and their purpose. This is why also social innovations are so important to connect different stakeholders, trigger political change and build powerful alliances.

Being involved in SuperCoop, it became very clear to me how important social innovation is and that all actors along the supply chain and their relation to each other must be considered when starting an impact-driven business. I learned a lot about climate impact and carbon footprint assessments during the Journey. It’s important to always critically self-reflect the impact you and your business creates. Often there are rebound effects or other unexpected consequences that need to be considered when measuring the climate impact.

“We had so many different academic, cultural and practical experiences and perspectives that we all learned a lot from each other.”

The experience of working in interdisciplinary teams, so respecting and appreciating different strengths while following a common mission, was also really helpful. In our Journey group, we had some experienced entrepreneurs and I learned a lot about iterative and lean business planning from them, which I’m using now! It was great to not only read this in books but from young entrepreneurs who experienced this themselves.

What was the most surprising thing about your participation in the Journey?

To be honest, I was very happy to participate and a bit nervous that everyone would be so much more experienced and more advanced in everything. The cool thing was that this was the case for many things, but we had so many different academic, cultural and practical experiences and perspectives that we all learned a lot from each other.

Were there benefits to collaborating across European borders?

It was super interesting to get to know different perspectives and that despite climate change being a global problem, every country and region has specific environmental problems.

That helped a lot to understand how important knowledge about local communities is to tackle big systemic challenges and following a flexible bottom-up approach rather than implementing and simply scaling the same solution everywhere.

What was the most challenging thing for you?

Saying good-bye! The Journey was an amazing experience that I’ll always keep in good memories – both in terms of learning many new things and building personal connections.

Next to that, it was also definitely challenging to get into effective team work right away and develop a feasible business idea but in the most positive way.

What was your main takeaway from the experience?

We can’t make a change alone and communities are incredibly powerful.

That’s also why we cannot only look at certain elements of a system to make a change but we must look at the strength and type of connections between them and building new ones through social innovation. This learning still inspires and motivates me in my work in the field of Social Entrepreneurship and with building our community-owned supermarket, which shows that solidarity and business can go together.

With the EIT Climate-KIC Community I believe that we can show how we can use an entrepreneurial mindset to create a sustainable future.