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Barcelona holds a special place in Alex Stöckl’s heart. While studying a BBA back in 2007 he fell in love, not only with the city and the culture, but also with a girl in his class. Six years after graduating, the girl in his class became his wife, as the couple returned to the city to get married.
Alex now works as senior investment manager at Creathor Venture, one of Europe’s leading early-stage venture capital funds. He spoke to us about studying a BBA at EU, seizing opportunities when they arise and not taking anything in life for granted.
Bright lights, big city
Growing up in a small town in Germany meant that living in a big city was very inspiring. I’d visited Barcelona before, so I knew what to look forward to. It’s an exciting environment; a positive place to live and study.
EU’s BBA curriculum is hands-on, combining theory with street-smarts, teaching you how to negotiate and how to campaign. I feel that this is something that is often lacking in other business schools.
I completed my master’s degree at Grenoble Graduate School of Business, before working in the Swiss office of global consulting firm Roland Berger. After three years and at senior consultant level I decided to quit without a job to go to, and took a sabbatical. I learned a language, traveled and simply took the time I needed to understand what I’m looking for in my career. I needed to listen to my inner self, while getting new perspectives.
When I returned, I applied for positions at a few startups. At the end of the final interview at a successful fintech company, I ended up chatting with the founder, off the record, about our shared passion for food and gastronomy. He mentioned another business venture of his – he had just acquired a healthy salad bar in Zurich with a view to develop a chain of restaurants. And he needed someone to build up the company and lead its expansion.
So, I had a choice. Follow what you get infused with during your career: the next step up, the rational move. Or go with my heart and take the exciting restaurant startup project. I spent a few days thinking it over and eventually I decided to go with my heart. Sometimes, taking a risk pays off. After just one year we had 70 staff members, running 5 restaurants, two food-trucks and a catering offering. And I was passionate about my work.
Later on, I was approached by a headhunter for a company called Creathor Venture, a leading venture capital firm providing early-stage support, funding and strategic advice to passionate, technology-driven entrepreneurs. Today I’m responsible for five startups in our portfolio. My role is to sit on the company’s board of directors, but beyond that to be a sparring partner to the founders. We try to bring an outside perspective on the market and on the steps towards building a successful business to the table.
A sense of perspective
I love traveling. My wife and I run a small travel blog, mainly on Instagram though – Smakli.ch – and we often travel to big, vibrant cities. They give me the motivation to aim big and make a big impact in life.
We recently returned from Tanzania, Africa. It was an incredible experience. The people were so optimistic. After 3 weeks in Tanzania we returned to Zurich, where all the people wear their expensive suits and watches, but nobody is smiling! It gives you such a perspective on life, to see people living in difficult circumstances with such a positive spirit. In the West, we all strive for our own prosperity, but we forget how lucky we are. This is the reason I’ve chosen to try to give something back.
Giving something back
Since this year I am part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community. This is an organization that brings together influential young people to discuss today’s most important issues. Each city has a hub with 30-40 members, all from different backgrounds, representing a wide cross-section of society. They want to create a positive impact, which of course has a broad range of meanings. Whether it’s eliminating poverty in Africa or loneliness among elderly people in Zurich or the plight of refugees, we aim to make a difference.
Words of advice
I would say to students to work hard and understand your privilege. It’s a great opportunity to be able to study at this level, to have access to professors of this caliber. With their experience and their knowledge, they don’t have to be there teaching you. But they choose to.
Also, have a career plan. What do you want from life? Of course, plans may change, but if you don’t have a plan you won’t find what you’re really looking for.
For me, I want to get to the point where I can choose who I work with and what projects I work on. I work hard, not to be famous or wealthy, but to have this kind of independence, this kind of freedom.
This summer I became co-founder of a startup aiming to lunch exciting gastronomy concepts in Zurich. At the center of my education at EU was the notion of entrepreneurship and it’s this, combined with passion, drive and a sense of perspective, that inspires me.