(c) Shaohui He

published 9 Apr 2013 by Iunia Martin in Austria 4 minutes 14 seconds to read

The art of playing the field

With a background in visual and performing arts as well as communications, creating odd-shaped footballs may not have been the most logical career choice. But Mario Sinnhofer, founder of Austrian startup Rasenreich begs to differ and sees a common denominator in all of his ventures – “the idea of movement”.

Austrian startup Austria Vienna Rasenreich Mario Sinnhofer Investment Ready Program design fair trade social entrepreneurship

Once upon a time, it might have been on a beautiful spring morning of the year 2001, a student of the University of Arts in Linz, Austria, brought a football into the studio of the Sculpture Department and, for the sake of deconstruction, cut it apart with a Stanley knife. The rest is business history. The former art student is called Mario Sinnhofer (39) and he currently sells non-spherical training balls as sole proprietor of Rasenreich (a portmanteau that can translate as either ‘lawn empire’ or ‘lawn-rich’) based in Vienna.

Challenging ergonomics

Experts in industrial design and sports-equipment technology endorse Mario’s  two products, CORPUS I and II, by linking them to theories of evolution, which state that learning can only be triggered by disrupting preexisting patterns of behaviour or thinking. Sounds complicated but the idea behind the Salzburg-native’s venture is brilliantly simple. Instead of searching for odd-shaped terrain and bad weather conditions, just change the ergonomics of the ball you are kicking. “Professional skiers, for instance, often train with one ski shorter than the other for the same reason”, says Mario. Better coordination and enhanced speed of reaction are known to be the main benefits of upsetting training habits in this way.

And who would know better about upsets and disruptions than Mario, with his seemingly ragtag resume? Ragtag because of his background in communication studies, English studies and sculpting, along with his work experience as a music journalist, performing and visual artist, product designer and, finally, entrepreneur. And seemingly because, as he explains, the common denominator of all his activities “has always been the idea of movement”. Thus, the fact that Mario found his way to the community of Pioneers of Change should not come as a surprise. And his commitment to the new paradigm of sustainability promoted by the Pioneers shows in the way he is doing business.

For the manufacturing of the Rasenreich training balls, Mario chose one of the five certified fair trade manufacturers worldwide, which is located in Sialkot, Pakistan. “The fair trade premium accounts for 10 percent of the regular production price”, he says, “which is ridiculous. It’s not the reason why customers refuse to buy a product. But most business people just want to keep the 10 percent for themselves.” One fair trade CORPUS ball costs 95,95 euros.

Rasenreich customers are mainly from the German speaking countries but Mario also has good connections in the USA and Japan. “There are approximately 500 sports clubs, which are using my devices and method.” The most prominent are FC Basel and the two German Bundesliga teams HSV and Fortuna Düsseldorf. Customers of team packages consisting of eight CORPUS devices are also youth academies of professional teams, like FC Kaiserslautern, Arminin Bielefeld and Zenit St. Petersburg.

Looking for investors

With Fair Trade and expansion in mind, Mario is currently participating in the Investment Ready Program for social entrepreneurs from Central and Eastern Europe, where he is learning how to scale the social impact of Rasenreich and brush up its business plan. At the end of the program, he hopes to attract investors for his venture.

Artistically, Mario is prepared for this. Last summer he staged his own investment pitch in Switzerland with the help of a stage designer, a dramatic adviser and a director within a theatre performance called Invest In Me! He went on stage in front of an actual audience, recreated that ritual moment when he cut a football open for the first time and promoted his business. “Now I am ready for the real thing”, he says.

Mario also hopes that by attracting investors, his daily business grind might change and he won’t have to deal with distributors’ requests any longer. “I’m a designer, not a sales person”, he explains. Last year two of the initial Rasenreich team members quit, leaving him alone with loads of responsibility and unresolved feelings. But the entrepreneur finds the emotional implications of this separation far more difficult to bear than the upset of his work routine.  “Parting from them felt like a divorce to me, when one parent is leaving the child behind and the other one is stepping into the shoes of a single parent”, he says.

“It all comes together”

When asked when he last played football, Mario sighs again. Apart from art, this is another thing that he had to sacrifice in order to make his dream of selling his devices happen. “There must be team spirit, otherwise it doesn’t feel right. And all my friends are back in Salzburg and Linz”, he says. His attention suddenly shifts from the interviewer out the window. Through this window and through a second one, he watches a football game on the TV set of the house across. Then he talks about movement, reflections, frames and multiple layers. “See? It all comes together. This is art!”

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