Team-U logo

TEAM U, Germany

Description of the approach

TEAM U is helping entrepreneurs and SMEs in distress with their successful turnaround and restart.

TEAM U is a social business aiming for a high social impact, combining cost free services delivered by volunteers and an expert network for consulting. It started as a self-help group in 2007 – the focus was on empowering entrepreneurs to overcome insolvency. Now it is the biggest independent organisation in Germany to support entrepreneurs with preventing bankruptcy focussing on the individual needs of the entrepreneurs as well as the company. TEAM U offers a cost-free hotline, peer-to-peer support, self-help groups, online services, consulting and has a network of very experienced experts to refer to.

Most volunteers are entrepreneurs who have personally managed to deal with crisis, they get professionally trained by TEAM U to help others who face difficulties. This unique combination of emotional competence and business expertise helps entrepreneurs to ask for help and to open-up. Insolvency and failure is still a big taboo in Germany – it is a very emotional issue, so it needs to be addressed in a very personal way to reach entrepreneurs to act early before it is too late. TEAM U is the mentor organisation responsible for the trainings and mentoring in WP4 in Early Warning Europe Program.

Source: TEAM U

How to achieve sustainable change, Team-U

The purpose of TEAM U is 1) ) to help entrepreneurs avoid a bankruptcy and 2) to help bankrupt entrepreneurs with their successful restart to rebuild their lives after a bankruptcy, both personally and professionally. In 2017, TEAM U received the award “Deutschland – Land der Ideen”. It is awarded under the patronage of the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier to innovative companies and projects that contribute to sustainability of economy and society.

TEAM U is developing an Online-Platform with tools and online support for entrepreneurs. The Online-Platform is connected to a CRM tool to manage the data that is needed for in-house consultants and mentor volunteers. This data is also used for scientific work on the issue of crisis management.

The volunteers and experts are selected and trained in a special modular training to enable them to help entrepreneurs who seek support. Also the entrepreneurs are selected – TEAM U only supports honest entrepreneurs who are willing to take responsibility for their situation and to undergo the process of – sometime painful – changes.

Since 2007, TEAM U has helped more than 14.000 entrepreneurs get back on their feet. At the moment, the seven employees in the TEAM U organisation and the 45 volunteers help around 400 companies a month.

Most entrepreneurs get in contact with TEAM U online and then call the TEAM U Hotline where they get individual support. TEAM U also is involved in different business networks and gets recommended through banks who seek a solution to settle debt problems with customers who have the potential for a turnaround. TEAM U is convinced that 50% of all bankruptcies can be avoided if entrepreneurs act early enough and get the right support - the long-term goal of TEAM U is to reach up to 12.5% of companies threatened with insolvencies by 2026 and to save 70% of them.

The total annual budget (2016) for TEAM U is 500 000 EUR. TEAM U has two main sources of income: Donations from foundations and some of the companies that TEAM U has helped to save and the income from TEAM U’s consulting company, which also provides help and advice to banks and insurance companies dealing with entrepreneurs in distress.

Key success factors

A key success factor for TEAM U is to not focus on the financial situation alone, but to also focus on the entrepreneur and his wellbeing. Often lawyers deal with the entrepreneur’s situation as a business problem alone and they do not address the personal and emotional crisis of the entrepreneur. Dealing with the personal and emotional problems is the key to getting the entrepreneur back on his feet and finding a sustainable solution to the problems.

Furthermore, TEAM U’s presence at SME/start-up conferences and a professional website is an important factor for success. It is extremely important that the entrepreneurs in distress are aware of TEAM U and receive the help and guidance needed in order to move on from the current situation and state of mind.

Main challenges

The main challenge for TEAM U is to keep up with the pace of its organisational growth and the often very high degree of pressure that is in a situation like a threatening insolvency in order to meet the entrepreneurs individual needs..

Another challenge is that many entrepreneurs get in contact with TEAM U when it is too late to help them. Therefore TEAM U is focusing increasingly on interacting with the entrepreneurs at an earlier stage by addressing issues that are related to crisis-prevention and dealing with changing market environments like digitalisation. TEAM U also advocates a culture of 2nd chance for honest entrepreneurs through media work and consulting of the federal and state government.

Key learning points

The key learning points for TEAM U are 

  • their value system that they only serve the interests of the entrepreneurs
  • that they are independent (non-governmental, not serving other interest groups)
  • to reach entrepreneurs early enough
  • to create trust and willingness of entrepreneurs to open up
  • looking both at the personal as well as the business situation
  • finding a realistic solution that fits the needs of the entrepreneur (Plan B)
  • to be honest and realistic with the entrepreneurs to find a sustainable solution
  • working with a network of experts that works complementary (like management expert and lawyer working together with a psychologist in the team if required)
  • to have a systemic approach that involves stakeholders like employees, creditors, banks, customers and family.

Further information about TEAM U:

CEO Attila von Unruh,