Alumni start-ups

Social Entrepreneur Zarah Bruhn

“I want to revolutionize social entrepreneurship”

TUM Alumna Zarah Bruhn.
27. Apr 2022  |  
Reading time Min.

During the refugee crisis of 2015, TUM Alumna Zarah Bruhn launched the non-profit company socialbee. With a takeover rate of over 90 percent, it places refugees in permanent employment (Picture: Google.org).

TUM Alumna Zarah Bruhn had originally wanted to become an investment banker. Now she is a social entrepreneur. With her non-profit company socialbee, she integrates refugees into society in a lasting way. Since April, she has also been working as a commissioner for social innovation for the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Zarah Bruhn is a doer. “Anything is possible,” she quotes her parental motto. With 20,000 euros in seed money she launched one of the most successful European Social ScaleUps in 2015. With two offices in Munich and Stuttgart, the TUM Alumna has successfully been helping refugees find jobs on the German labor market for the past six years – meanwhile even state-wide.

In addition to direct placements, the focus of their integration work is primarily on skill-building projects with large companies. In this way, real career opportunities can be opened up for refugees, while at the same time counteracting the shortage of skilled workers. For this, she was honored as a TUM pioneer by TUM President Thomas F. Hofmann in December. “As a responsible technical university, we align our activities with the values, needs and expectations of society. Our alumna and socialbee founder Zarah Bruhn lives up to this social responsibility in an exemplary manner with her company,” said Thomas F. Hofmann.

Zarah Bruhn has reacted immediately to the war in Ukraine. “With my company, I have been providing sustainable integration assistance for over six years. Our support always applies equally to all refugees, but is individually adapted to the needs of each target group.” Refugees can turn to socialbee for advice and receive job offers and individual support, and companies are also supported in recruiting and integrating refugees.

ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT

Already as a bachelor student at the University of Mannheim, Zarah Bruhn worked for venture capitalists and private equity companies. She wanted to become an investment banker. But her studies in Management and Technology at TUM really made her want to start her own business. “At TUM, the entrepreneurial spirit is ever-present,” she says. “Through the hands-on seminars, case studies and the many founders, you are exposed to this spirit here all the time.”

At TUM, the entrepreneurial spirit is ever-present.

Zarah Bruhn

When Zarah Bruhn became involved in the refugee crisis as a volunteer at the end of 2015, she realized that she wanted to become part of the long-term solution and create a social enterprise to do so. While still at TUM, she experienced firsthand how valuable interdisciplinary and international working groups are – how useful diversity is. Virtually overnight, she and Maximilian Felsner co-founded socialbee. They wanted to actively integrate particularly refugees with limited qualifications into the labor market and society. “I didn’t feel that the existing structures in the labor market were sufficient for sustainable integration,” she explains.

BACKUP

She got the necessary backup she needed to set up the company from TUM. The master’s student was granted two semesters off in order to start up the spin-off. “I was also able to write my master’s thesis on my own start-up,” she says. “Not every university gives you this much freedom.” To this day, Zarah Bruhn is benefiting from TUM’s extensive network. Thanks to grants from foundations, her company is on secure footing financially as well.

In this way, Zarah Bruhn is able to completely focus on the long-term integration of refugees: They can participate in skills-building programs run jointly with large companies – which impress with their high chances of being hired for a permanent position afterwards. Or refugees are employed directly via socialbee and placed with partner companies – from micro-enterprises to DAX-listed corporations – for a period of no less than one year. In addition, they benefit from an integration program that combines targeted qualification, socio-educational support and language assistance.

TUM Alumna Zarah Bruhn and members of her team.

Since the company' s founding, TUM Alumna Zarah Bruhn has placed hundreds of refugees in permanent employment. Her own team has now grown to 20 employees at locations in Munich and Stuttgart. In the picture from left to right: Dris Mi (Head of Product + Learning), Sebastian Halden (Senior Sales Manager), Miriam van Laak (Senior Integration Manager), Zarah Bruhn (CEO), Dr. Sajida Afzal (Senior Integration Manager) (Picture: Google.org).

But it’s not just about supporting refugees; Zarah Bruhn and her team also lend a helping hand to the companies. These are grateful that they can get involved in matters of integration and diversity in a simple way without becoming caught up in the jungle of authorities and rampant bureaucracy. “We try to act as a kind of buffer so that the obstacles that come up don’t land on one side or the other,” Zarah Bruhn explains. “The goal is for refugees to truly be ready in a year’s time, to not need us anymore, and ideally be taken on by the partner company as apprentices or qualified permanent employees.” In addition, she and her team also offer train-the-trainer programs in which companies can have their own employees become experts in diversity and integration.

STRUCTURAL CHANGE

To date, Zarah Bruhn and her social enterprise have been able to place hundreds of refugees in permanent positions. “The takeover rate is over 90 percent,” says Zarah Bruhn. “We are very, very proud of that. It puts us well ahead of many other labor market integration programs.” She now has a team of more than 20 employees and, in addition to Munich, has opened a second office in Stuttgart, with more to follow in other major cities.

But the energetic entrepreneur isn’t going to stop here. Routine puts her off. And the successful placement into jobs has already become routine. Zarah Bruhn didn’t set out to integrate a hundred refugees every year. Her goal is to socially revolutionize the entire system. “I want to create the prototype of a social empire, making the social enterprise system so compelling that it will be the preferred model,” she says. “I want to see the best talent working on the world’ s most pressing issues.” In her new role as Commissioner for Social Innovation at the Federal Ministry, which she took up in April, she can certainly make a difference here.

TUM Alumna Zarah Bruhn.

Zarah Bruhn (Bild: Urban Zintel).

Zarah Bruhn

Master Management and Technology 2018

 

Zarah Bruhn graduated in Business Administration from the University of Mannheim. In 2014, she came to TUM for her master’s degree in Management and Technology. While still a student, she worked for venture capitalists and private equity companies. But the refugee crisis at the end of 2015 made her want to switch sides. She set up the non-profit company socialbee, which has since been integrating refugees into the labor market in a sustainable manner. In 2020, when the corona crisis was still in its early stages, she launched a digital platform that allows contactless shopping for high-risk groups.

Zarah Bruhn’s social entrepreneurial activities have earned her several awards, including the KfW Award Gründen, the Ashoka Fellowship and the Female Founders Award bestowed by the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany. In 2019, the business magazine Capital named her one of the Top 40 under 40. She frequently speaks as an expert on integration and Female Entrepreneurship at conferences, including the Munich startup conference Bits & Pretzels. Since April 2022, she has never been the new Commissioner for Social Innovation of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Zarah Bruhn loves extremes, the adrenaline rush of high altitude climbing and in the waves while surfing. The successful entrepreneur likes to spend her winters in the south, thus proving at the same time how well New Work actually works.