The founders have created an office metaverse in Microsoft Teams: those who work remotely should get a feeling like they are in the office through ongoing group calls. Now they have sold their startup Bnear.

Exit achieved: Bnear founder Malte Hendricks (l.) hands over his startup to Christian Groß, founder of Solutions2Share.

Malte Hendricks wants to abolish the monotonous, isolated everyday home office routine. Not only because he's looking for variety while working in Portugal – Hendricks is living and working from Lisbon until July. Above all, the founder is developing a tool that is intended to make remote work more personal. His startup Bnear builds virtual offices in Microsoft Teams – with an elevator, conference tables, coffee kitchen and an office dog named Bruno. The idea: Employees who work a lot at home should spontaneously contact other colleagues in the digital environment via group calls – just like they would otherwise in the physical office.

Together with Sascha Theismann, Martin Lang and fellow student Fritz Fried, the business IT specialist set up Bnear 2022 in Cologne. According to Hendricks, large customers, including food retailers, telecommunications, real estate and the energy sector, are now using the startup's solution.

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Now the founders have sold their company. Yesterday afternoon, Managing Director Hendricks traveled from Portugal to sign the exit contract in Cologne. The buyer is Solutions2Share GmbH, a Microsoft app specialist from Bavaria. The company, founded in 2011, develops governance tools that help companies control workstations in Teams and Office and manage access. Both sides have agreed not to disclose the price.

The founders of the Microsoft app company and Bnear actually just wanted to cooperate

Founder Christian Groß has known Hendricks for a long time. He wrote to him after discovering that Solutions2Share was behind many Microsoft apps. “Their experience was very exciting for us,” says Hendricks. According to its own information, customers in 72 countries have installed the Bavarian software company's applications more than 40,000 times. Especially in the initial phase, the Cologne resident often exchanged ideas with CEO Groß when he had questions about working with Microsoft and received tips. For example, the Cologne-based company made it possible for customers to download Bnear independently for the test phase and make a purchase. “Back then, one of us had to accompany the customer during every onboarding,” explains Hendricks.

The Solutions2Share boss did not immediately push for a takeover of the startup; a partnership was first discussed. Now things are different. “Those were exciting years,” says founder Hendricks. Nevertheless, he is happy that the new owner gives Bnear the environment it needs to grow in the next few years. “We are putting our solution in the best hands for what’s next,” says the founder.

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Among other things, the plan is to integrate technologies, i.e. the “framework” of the Bavarian software provider, into Bnear. “Christian has developed his own language for how they build team apps,” explains Hendricks. In the future, the development of new tools could be simplified and accelerated. Licenses should also be processed more easily – after all, governance is Solutions2Share's passion. “Customers have always had to write to me to activate a new team. But they will soon be able to control this themselves,” said the Cologne resident. The startup will keep its current name – and Bnear will continue to operate as a product.

Solutions2Share founder Groß says: “Bnear’s digital office perfectly rounds off our offering.” The entrepreneur hopes to gain competitive advantages by purchasing the office solution. He wants to “move past” competitors.

Users ride an elevator and meet for a digital coffee chat

In today's version, users can access the rooms of the virtual office with their own Teams profile. Before entering an elevator, they can choose an emoji to match their mood or enter a status message. Designed similarly to a computer game, the Bnear office has desks, colorful bean bags and a kitchen. Behind the furniture there are team conferences that run continuously.

Depending on whether users want to exchange ideas with colleagues while working remotely or prefer to work more concentratedly, they can join different areas with a click. For a virtual coffee break, we go to the kitchen to chat. Users can store Excel and Word files on bookshelves and whiteboards. A window on the side provides an overview of upcoming appointments. The virtual office dog Bruno answers questions about app functions.

The virtual office spaces in the Teams environment should look something like this.

The virtual office spaces in the Teams environment should look something like this.

The startup is now also developing “event rooms” for customers in which company parties are celebrated. Meetings outside the team should also take place in a large canteen. The startup is currently working on creating special onboarding rooms. Because the training of new employees often takes place remotely, says Hendricks. Instead of someone sitting helplessly in their home office, the environment should connect new joiners with technical contacts, HR staff and other newcomers.

Investors put one million euros into Bnear in 2023

Hendricks calls the playful office concept “much more tangible and human than simply joining a call.” Since December 2022, their application can only be installed via the Microsoft Teams app store. Companies now pay eight euros per user per month. Once the company reaches a certain size, the price decreases, says Hendricks. There is no limit to how many teams can use the tool at the same time.

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In May 2023, the Cologne startup had raised more than one million euros, including from asset manager Flossbach von Storch, the HR tech investor Allygatr, NR-Bank and business angels from the DACH region. The founders have gotten along well with the money so far.

Bnear founder is already planning a new startup

It is said that Malte Hendricks and his team of ten will continue to support the handover process until Bnear is fully integrated into the Solutions2Share portfolio. What will happen next for the individual employees is still unclear, says Hendricks. The majority will probably stay. Co-founder Sascha Theismann, however, decided early on to close the startup chapter. He went back into management consulting.

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And Hendricks already has one foot in his next business project. “I’m about to found a new startup,” he announces. This time it's about software in the B2B sales area. He doesn't want to reveal much yet. Just that he has often seen founders who create exciting products but lack sales expertise. This is where the Cologne native suspects his next business case will be. There will be no time off as originally planned. “When cool opportunities arise, you want to take them!”


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