Internatsschule Hansenberg - BIRCH - Business, Innovation, Responsibility, Communication at Hansenberg

This case study was prepared by Paul A. Rauh from Internatsschule Schloss Hansenberg, edited by Joseph TIXIER from the OECD LEED Programme


Internatsschule Schloss Hansenberg is situated on a small, rural campus surrounding, near the Rhine-river, close to Frankfurt in the middle of Germany. Hansenberg is a public, non-profit boarding school of higher secondary education for classes 10-12, i.e. for 15 to 18-year-old young adults. Per academic year 68 new students are selected to attend this modern school for high potential students in Germany. In three years the youths aim at their A-level equivalent (Abitur), so around 200 students live here at Geisenheim, Hesse.

BIRCH - Hansenberg outside of school
Concentrated work "outside of school" in summertime

‌Founded in July 2003 the aim of Hansenberg is to provide excellence in teaching and learning for the young future of Europe, Germany, and the state of Hesse. Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Politics and Economics, are the three core A-level subjects. Additionally a broad lesson-plan in languages, social sciences and the arts, and an extensive off-time activity scheme is offered. 32 teachers, 8 social pedagogues and a school psychologist offer a comprehensive range of lessons, and plenty add-ons in acceleration and enrichment activities.

Prerequisites for the admission to Hansenberg are an excellent performance in classes 7-9, a high level of tested intelligence, an outstanding interest in natural and social sciences, literature and the arts, as well as accomplishing a three-day assessment centre. This new type of school is run in a public-private partnership (PPP) model between federal state of Hesse and 2 business companies.

Looking at the local environment and the legal framework, Hansenberg is a “regular”, open for all, boarding school in Hesse, but with financial aid available for intellectual potentials, and with all the legal necessities and obstacles of regular secondary education. However, the school takes advantage of many opportunities offered by the pupils‘ parents and their enthusiasm, and the financial support of the PPP-companies. This offers a window of flexible opportunities in many “acceleration and enrichment activities”, systematically structured for our interested students; such as additional scientific, literary, sports, or economic and entrepreneurial projects (e.g. an internship abroad, a business week, or voluntary business competitions).

Teachers are relatively flexible in the form and the content of their own curriculum in these voluntary extra-curricular activities. Some projects are integrated into the regular teaching process and/or subjects; others are extra-curricular, as part of the acceleration and enrichment activities in workgroups on different levels.


In August 2004, the second year of existence of our new school, the project “Business education: An integrated project in economic and entrepreneurship education for young adults” was started by the author of this paper.

The rationale behind the “Business and economic education Project” was originally, to add an extra momentum to traditional learning in classes 10-12 in the classical subjects taught in Germany, such as Politics and Economics, or the Natural and Social Sciences. The modern approach, favoured by our teacher team, of “network or innovative thinking” asks for new ways of “teaching”:

  1. For a new, self-responsible team approach to cooperation and communication in enthused student groups,
  2. A “philosophical”, interdisciplinary, cross-subject approach to learning, e.g. in business-projects.
  3. In order to invent, evaluate in the market, and develop a complete business plan for new, innovative “scientific” business ideas.
  4. To satisfy the needs of Megatrends of future consumers/ markets (e.g. in energy, technology/ IT, life style, social/ economic needs, convenience).

Objectives/ targets.

BIRCH - Hansenberg modules of achievement
A student picture of "Modules of Achievement" Abi 2013

‌In order to achieve a maximum impact, a targeted system of short, medium and long-term objectives was set:

Short term, i.e. 1-2 years: For grades 10 to 11 we wanted to establish a business week as a “motivating and activating starter” into entrepreneurial acting and thinking. Fitting and following to that week we felt voluntary workgroups participating in selected business competitions (offered richly in Germany and Europe) were the appropriate next step. And we thought, that a system of senior-student-trainers could help to manage complexity, reduce workload of teachers, and foster students' “ownership” for their projects and work.

Medium term objectives (2-4 years): School can be great, but nothing is more inspiring than “the real world”. So we intended to build up a specific network of contacts to “reality”, the world outside of school (i.e. diverse local enterprises, regional and national companies, and especially universities). Through this network students received mentoring and coaching by external professionals, adding a new momentum of enthusiasm for teams.

Long term targets (4-8 years): To be honest, as a “very young school”, at that time we dared not think of such a long time range. However, we felt, somewhat “indistinct” yet, that a basic set of targets and a developing curriculum (with systematic, accelerating steps of levels of achievement) were needed:

And in the long run as a kind of “vision” we hoped to spark “a sustainable fire of entrepreneurial thinking” in students.

Overall target always was to use all upcoming options and chances to enhance and strengthen our project (in little steps over the years) - with knowledge, experience, business contacts, budget, and – people. Looking back, we can say: What matters most are “enthusiastic people”. People who share a belief in the future of our young students, and are willing to sacrifice their time and personal resources.

Our core beliefs, values and visions are:

Description of the activity/project


BIRCH - Hansenberg WIWAG

A WIWAG-team presenting "Company-Strategy" 2014

‌The school holds since August 2004 an annual business week. The initial launch of the project “Business education: An integrated project in economic and entrepreneurship education for young adults” consisted of the idea, to set the basis for economic learning in classes 10-12 (in addition to the traditional teaching curriculum in economics and politics). We started with a week of extra-curricular, systematic and Computer-based, active economic case study (Systemplanspiel). And decided for the systems of WIWAG and ÖKOWI, two programmes in which students will manage a company in the former and a state in the latter (modelling a Swiss system including government, consumers, companies, and central bank). These simulations enhance team-work competencies, managing complexity in a sustainable development context. Produced by E. Schmidheiny Foundation in Switzerland, these case studies are designed “to promote interest in and understanding of economic aspects through economy weeks.”

Resources and costs of the week are net around 200-250 Euro per person, software licence, four external professional trainers, and complete organisation was offered by the state education authority.

The learning and educational effects of both economy weeks were tremendous. Pupils gained a deeper knowledge of interfaced economic realities, strategic analysis of facts and data, effects of competition on the market. But more important than strategy and tactics are the key personality success factors acquired. Such as cooperation in a team, precise communication about business or political facts, innovative and creative thinking (e.g. in terms of a marketing or reform plan). And networking, to win customers in the market, or followers in the politics of a state (e.g. for a new product, or a political reform).

Parallel to this a new business project in grade 10 was offered for voluntary study groups (but topics can be included in regular curriculum, too). We decided for “Jugend gründet” (JG) (Youth Founders). It is a free of charge, online national project with external partners. In JG students in teams learn to “invent” a creative “high-tech” business idea. Students are asked to design an appropriate marketing and communication campaign, evaluate production costs, prices, turn-over, profits and loss, all at a medium level of knowledge.

BIRCH - Hansenberg b@s winners

business@school winners 2011 - their product idea DIVIO

‌Since August 2005, we decided to offer our 11 grade classes the “business@school” (b@s) project. Developed with teachers and operated in Europe, it offers a practical, hands-on approach to business in three phases. It was in cooperation with over 20 renowned companies, including global size companies. Students are guided through an almost complete economic cycle of analysis of:

The costs of these two business projects (JG and b@s) are low, but external coaches each invest 50+ hours per year. And resources are needed for teacher lessons, and the time consuming project management, i.e. communication between all actors in the pit.

BIRCH - Hansenberg b@s final nextar
business@school Finals Europe 2014, Team Nextar

‌The school began systematicaly using “Senior-student-trainers” in August 2006. We ask former student-participants to voluntarily co-train and mentor “the young teams” as Seniors, JG or b@s. Advantages: Workload on teachers is reduced, delegation of self-responsibility is strengthened, and communication structures between the students are “closer and easier”. And these Senior-coaches exercise and train “leadership” at a responsible level, which is inspiring for all sides.

We implement, since Aug. 2007 the first systematic “Creativity Sessions” and “Effective Presentation Techniques”, based on a handbook written by our teachers handed out to senior students. The objective is to invent “new” product ideas for the national business competitions such as JG and b@s. The 2nd workshop “Effective Presentation Techniques” works in cooperation with external professionals and is aimed at targeted, professional, and “creative” business presentations, in front of large audiences and a proficient jury.

BIRCH - Hansenberg BiO2Xic

DG Prize winner team 2011 - their bio-refresher BiO2Xic

The costs of these two creative projects are very low, but resources are needed only for teacher lessons.

In August 2008, we integrated a new competition: “Dt. Gründerpreis für Schüler” (DG). for grades 11 or 12. DG is a national, annual business project, funded by diverse companies and the federal savings banks. Student teams of 2-6 persons “invent” a product, and market it, including a pitch to local professionals.

The school participates since 2011 in Junior Achievement – Young Entrepreneurship by engaging with the local initiative named “JUNIOR”, proposed to grade 10 students. It is a more “practical” alternative to the rather theoretical “high tech” oriented “Jugend gründet”-programme. The initiative allow the students to confront themselves with real production, real sales, profits, and interaction with real customers, instead of the simulations.

BIRCH - Hansenberg alumnus

School-Alumnus + Internet Founder G. Spanz, 2012

‌Finally, since 2012, the school initiated a cycle of intensified networking, integrating the new ECB project “Generation Euro” ( which we proposed to students as a project for final year students, to excel - on top level of demand - in central banking and monetary policy.

Networking has intensified with local schools (cooperation with St. Ursula in b@s), companies, institutions and universities (e.g. our Alumni-network, Frankfurt School of Finance, Chamber of Commerce, European Business School), and local venture capitalists, business angels, real entrepreneur-meetings.

The costs of these activities are low as regards money, but very high teacher/ coach-resources are needed as regards coaching time.

Anchoring of the activity/project in the school

The project “BIRCH” in the very start was not yet firmly anchored in the school`s programme and philosophy. As described openly above, the project slowly matured in short, medium and long term “objectives/targets/steps”. The content/ method of teaching entrepreneurship was partly carefully designed, in a repetitive spiral curriculum. The other part was for clear reason subject to discovering and seizing, through the impetus of networking with professionals, or external ideas or creative stimuli. This meant that embedding the project in the school’s annual calendar and teaching structure would need time and persuasion. First results in competitions, and the systematic feedback-system, resources and support slowly followed and resources were made available in sharing the costs between parents, PPP-Partners, Hansenberg Association. Now, a “mental” support and resources are provided for by the different partners, but financial, manpower, teachers remains a common “problem” to care for as “entrepreneurship” is a term that has yet to “fascinate” school administration.

The school in the community

The general role of Internatsschule Hansenberg in the state of Hesse is to educate, build personalities, and enhance high potentials of their students, especially in Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Politics and Economics, to fulfil high demand in MINT-subjects.

As a public boarding school for grades 10-12, we also focus on local social and cultural responsibility. In the local environment Hansenberg seeks to closely cooperate with neighbouring schools, firms and universities. Because of our “vision” we use the Public-Private-Partnership model for a 5-week internship abroad in grade 11 and use networking with half-governmental institutions to operate a Businessweek in grade 10. We use as well contact to local companies and universities to gain external professionals for national competition –projects. Hansenberg actively uses the potentials of the parents/ senior students in “mentoring” the young in the projects and invite as many external professionals as possible: politicians, economists, scientists, musicians, theatre/film.

Achievements and impact

BIRCH - Hansenberg Jungend grundet
Jugend gründet  - German Finals 2013 - Team SafeStop

In addition, around 650-680 students participated in the past decade in varied entrepreneurship activities in BIRCH which means a coverage of around 30-40% per age group and an average of 2-5 teams with 3-6 pupils per 3-6 national competitions per age group.

The extra-curricular system of internal Senior- and external Business-Coaches, is particularly appreciated as it leaves room for self-responsible team-coach interaction, creates motivation for a development of their own innovative business-ideas and offers seniors a chance to exercise early “leadership” and train communication competence

BIRCH also had a more lasting impact on the school as it upscaled from a small, pilot project in our first year 2004, to the efficient and targeted business project 2014 comprising 5-6 business-competitions run parallel by 2 teachers. It is based on a motivating and integrated Businessweek in class 10 that extends through a step-by-step “spiral curriculum” of low to high level projects and integrated competitions. It is also embedded in a set of additional supporting activities, such as excursions to local universities and companies or the new activities such as the Governmental Founder`s Week, or the Interview series with our Alumni.

We observed transformation in many young students` personalities and capabilities towards enthusiastic, reliable und responsible young adults that are socially more competent team players, set towards a commonly agreed goal in the team.The most important changes we observe are

Assessment and evaluation is achieved by the results in the respective public presentations, and/ or the national competitions (e.g. see www-links above), the feedback (personal/mail/phone) from external professionals for teachers/ seniors/ teams, the online-feedback system and questionnaires of most activities (e.g. for Junior, business@school, DG, JG), our own internal paper based questionnaire developed by BIRCH-team and a detailed reporting system for the 5-week internship abroad

Success factors

We consider key success factors in business@school are an external, guided and carefully structured concept of step-by-step improvement, accompanied by “live and real” business professionals over an entire school year as “business-coaches”, mentoring, helping, guiding, but not “doing” the job of the teams. Fascination, responsibility, a clear cut project- management, very hard work, and “live” communication with coaches are the ingredients for success here.

Key success factors in the overall BIRCH process are:

But nothing is more important than personal enthusiasm, networking and external support: People matter most.

Obstacles and ways to overcome them

Central obstacles in the past were to overcome scepticism with colleagues, lack of support at school head management level, and state level. We tried to tackle it with success-stories of our teams, and “real contacts” of teams with administration.

Designing a motivating, attractive, effective spiral learning-scheme for 15-18-year-olds, that enkindles youths proved to be challenging and had us developed the curriculum defined above step by step, interacting with business/ university professionals.

The lack of almost all learning materials in business and entrepreneurial learning at school level needed us to develop and continuously improve learning materials/presentations - using feedback from the students.

It was particularly challenging to develop a network of external specialists, willing to sacrifice time and resources for our young teams. But this challenge was quickly overcome by our achievements and made businessmen and universities realize that project like BIRCH are future high potentials

Some obstacles remain difficult to tackle such as overcoming suspicions of quite a few colleagues, school head management, and administrative state level, that students at that age are not able to perform on top level business, economy and entrepreneurial thinking. We are still trying to prove, and have partly succeeded, that even younger pupils can perform – if “coached” properly.

BIRCH - Hansenberg safe stop BIRCH - Hansenberg b@s Nexter presentation ‌

From left to right : Pitching at European Business School with DG-business plan before critical MA-Students 2014; b@s-Team Nextar 2013 - presenting their innovation “The dING” at Dt. Börse AG; Team SafeStop pitching 2014 with IT- business idea Parkolution at Founders Meeting - Forum Kiedrich 2012