Christoph Grete

TU Delft, MSc Sustainable Energy Technology

Originally from a small town near Hanover, Christoph moved to Stuttgart for his undergraduate studies in Mechanical Engineering. After running a cleantech start-up in Delft for 8 months, he is now focused on finishing his MSc degree in Sustainable Energy Technology from TU Delft. He is looking for new challenges and opportunities that have real impact, for which he thinks cleantech entrepreneurship is a key concept.

We asked Christoph:

The OGM: As you embark on your career path, how important is the culture of the organization you choose?

Christoph: From my experience, culture greatly affects personal performance within a team environment. I get the feeling that this is true for most people. I see a lot of value in zooming out from time to time, to ensure everyone on the team is working towards a common goal. In other words, for me, alignment is a very important part of an organization’s culture.

The OGM: Describe the impact work flexibility will have on your career path.

Christoph: Work life for students from the Millennial generation demands an ever increasing amount of flexibility. Personally, I see it not as a burden but rather as an opportunity. Hopefully I will work in many different areas and broaden my perspective to eventually obtain the same holistic view of the world that I admire many thought leaders for. Lastly, flexibility also means that every week, every day even, will arrive with new unforeseen challenges.

The OGM: What does a strong cohesive, team-oriented culture at work mean to you?

Christoph: Multi-disciplinary perspectives are key ingredients for outstanding team performances. While team projects were not an integral part of my undergraduate studies in Germany, my exchange semester in Denmark and my graduate studies in the Netherlands were more focused on creating diverse team environments. Seeing the outcomes produced by these diversely constructed teams was simply mind-blowing and is why I believe this is of the utmost importance at work.

The OGM: Is a transparent work environment in regards to compensation, rewards and career development important to you? If so, why?

Christoph: Incentives can make a real difference. I would like to be able to discuss incentives in an open and transparent environment with my employer or the team that I am working with. For example, given my professional goals in 1, 2 or 5 years, it should be clear whether or not I can achieve these goals in the current environment. It comes back to that culture of alignment. This could very well be unrelated to compensation, rewards and career development.

The OGM: How does technology impact your day-to-day?

Christoph: This question reminds me of an intriguing task I was once given by a professor: to send him one picture, without any text or explanation. This task, in my opinion, describes technology the best. This task was given to an entire group and, as expected, everyone came up with very different images.

However, the main impact technology has on my everyday life, is that it enables people to find each other in an effortless way. Due to this, I see vast potential to overcome many of the barriers we face in our efforts to solve global problems.

The OGM: What does the phrase, ‘sense of community’ mean to you?

Christoph: Although the term has been around for several decades, it has expanded its meaning. The nature of communities has changed. In a world where everyone is potentially connected, online communities sometimes replace traditional ones. I think that ‘sense of community’ is a very important idea that should and will be considered in all fields, such as politics but also in the development of products and services.

The OGM: Are acknowledgment and support an integral component to your career needs? If so, how?

Christoph: I see acknowledgment and support as catalysts or accelerators, not only for careers, but also for projects. These catalysts often lead to attracting the right people. If you excellent performance is rewarded, that recognition can help to inspire others, create synergies and open doors.

The OGM: Tell us about a struggle you faced when transitioning into the workforce?

Christoph: As an entrepreneur, I struggled with balancing my excitement about potential leads with ensuring the leads aligned with the company’s objectives.

The OGM: For other students just figuring things out, what words of encouragement would you offer?

Christoph: Embrace failure! I’ve just recently learned that and have found it to be incredibly valuable. The people we think have figured out everything perfectly: most often, they haven’t. And that is greatly encouraging. Peter Fiske put it very nicely last week by comparing it to ducks on the pond: above the surface it all looks effortless, but below they are paddling like crazy.

The OGM: Did you always know what you wanted to do?

Christoph: I hope not (smiling). That would mean that I had it all figured out from the beginning, which is definitely not the case. It is quite hard not to feel ashamed about how differently one saw things one year ago. And most likely, I will find myself in the same situation a year from now. At least that is what I am aiming for.

The OGM: Where does/would your sense of satisfaction come from at work?

Christoph: Whenever I feel that I have learned something I feel very satisfied. The last year in particular was a really steep learning curve for me, personally. The more you learn, the more you want to learn. Another source of satisfaction is successful time management. Looking back at a week and thinking that I spent my time in the best possible way keeps me going.

The OGM: How important are further education and training to your career development?

Christoph: One of the best aspects of my career so far, has been the top-notch training and coaching sessions from both YES!Delft and Climate-KIC. The former is the high-tech incubator located on the TU Delft campus that hosts more than 70 start-ups. The latter is Europe’s largest public-private innovation partnership. My organization became part of its Acceleration Program, which has been an incredible support for us. In my personal career, I hope to continuously have the chance to participate in world-class events around the globe.

The OGM: How did you differentiate yourself in the workplace as a Millennial?

Christoph: I think I differentiated myself by being very open about what my goals are. We should not try and make ourselves fit or adjust to a certain job description. Often people underestimate the strength of just stating one’s objective and sticking to it. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. But something else will.

The OGM: If you could be stuck in an elevator with anybody, who would it be?

Christoph: From the present: Elon Musk, From the past: Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison (at the same time)

The OGM: Did you pursue University right after high school?

Christoph: My year was one of the last that had mandatory civil or military service after high school, and I chose the former. My job was in the service and maintenance department of a hospital. After that I went to New Zealand for 5 months to work and explore. My main job was fundraising for the local Red Cross. Many of my friends went to University right away, but I never regretted the year. On the contrary, it has very much affected the decisions I’ve made up until this point.

The OGM: Will/Did your University program play a role in your career path? If not, why?

Christoph: My graduate studies have greatly influenced my path. After my undergraduate in Mechanical Engineering in Stuttgart, I went to TU Delft and chose Sustainable Energy Technology, which is based in the field of applied sciences, but also offered courses from all faculties, ranging from solar PV, wind, storage and more. Very early in my studies, I came across the topic of kite power for power and propulsion systems. This topic formed the basis of my master thesis. The start-up I launched with my co-founder Manuel Vargas Evans is on the topic of kite power and the TU Delft research group that has been studying the subject for more than eight years played a huge role in our efforts.

The OGM: What are the three most important aspects you feel an organization should offer to retain a Millennial?

Christoph: Space for innovation. Opportunities for further education. Projects in multi-disciplinary teams.

The OGM: Describe your ideal organization, one that you could grow and develop your career in?

Christoph: My ideal organization has an openly communicated vision, mission, ambition and a committed team that works towards achieving those goals. Further, the organization deals with a problem that I identify with. When you look at the issues and threats our world is experiencing and you contrast that with the recent IPOs and valuations for companies e.g. in social media, I see a definite need for change. On the positive side, more and more successful entrepreneurs and CEOs are choosing to focus their future efforts in other sectors, such as cleantech.

The OGM: From a scale of 1 to 10 how important are the following: incentives and rewards, compensation, training and development, global opportunities? 1 being least important.

Christoph: Incentives and rewards (3), compensation (3), training and development (9), global opportunities (7).

The OGM: Tell us about your most memorable achievement or milestone thus far?

Christoph: Although there are specific events that definitely stood out over the last couple of months, for me, the biggest the achievement was to gain the trust of the head of the kite power research division and associate professor Roland Schmehl, who supported the spin-off together with Manuel. We both owe him a large debt for all the support and feedback he provided us.


Tina Olivero

Tina Olivero

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