5 Years, 10 Programs, Countless Memories
About Tech Implementations and The Real Impact at Startup Autobahn powered by Plug and Play
Time is flying by and while we are busy preparing virtual events and digital open innovation strategies, we are slowly approaching our 5th anniversary! How did that happen so fast? With 5 years of STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play written in history, we are not only kicking off an exciting and even more inspirational Program 10 (stay tuned, this is just the beginning), but we are also celebrating 5 years of innovation and collaboration. Within these 5 years, we have grown together as a community with our 29 partners and 289 accelerated startups — and realized more than 380 pilot projects. We are constantly seeking to improve our processes and learn from best practices in order to continue innovating and bringing the greatest value to our partners, startups, and community as a whole.
Since the STARTUP AUTOBAHN Launch Event and Selection Day on 14th July 2016, we have not only seen our speakers and champions gradually shed their ties and replace their suits with sweaters, but we have also observed a cold change which is not visible at first glance: our corporate partners have started to introduce a culture of change and an open innovation mindset in their companies while preparing their business units for a shift in future mobility, production, enterprise, sustainability, and beyond.
With our learnings in mind, we’ve grown to be Europe’s largest Open Innovation platform. Since launching STARTUP AUTOBAHN with our Founding Partners Plug and Play Tech Center, Mercedes-Benz AG, Arena 2036 and the University of Stuttgart, we have opened up our Platform and are currently counting 10 Anchor Partners and 16 Ecosystem Partners, totaling 24 corporate partners: Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, DXC Technology, Deutsche Post DHL, ZF Friedrichshafen, BASF, Motherson, Webasto, Bosch, Schaeffler, Murata, AGC, Linde, Wieland, BP, Hyundai, Eberspächer, Faurecia, Sekisui, ADAC, Plastic Omnium, Zenzic, Maxion, Novelis, and five more partners will be announced during our EXPO 10 on July 21!
“We can build this ecosystem to make the digital transformation and possibly even sustainability faster, better, and cheaper. And that is what has been enabled to achieve here with STARTUP AUTOBAHN and Plug and Play.” — Saeed Amidi, Founder and CEO, Plug and Play Tech Center
Together we have organized more than 196 tech events — 27 of which were virtual — and counted over 31,105 event attendees with 10,000+ speakers. But rest assured that we don’t hold our events solely for fun; we want to create a spell of magic and inspiration to connect our many startups and partners and truly make an impact on our future.
Meanwhile, we scouted more than 929 startups from 43 different countries for our corporate partners, and accompanied them in the realization of 380 Proof of Concepts (PoCs). How we managed to do that? Perhaps the 2,400 coffee packs and 120 snack deliveries with a total of 36,000 chocolate bars — all consumed by our Plug and Play team in Stuttgart — are one explanation. Yes, we truly feel comfortable and very much at home in our office space at Arena 2036.
Apart from startup collaborations and scoutings, Cross-Collaboration within our corporate partner landscape has emerged as an integral part of our recent programs. The goal is to foster our innovation ecosystem, and use existing synergies between cross-industries or along the supply chain. The joint pilot between Porsche, BASF, Motherson, and the startup Circulartree focused on carbon footprint traceability along the supply chain. Their collaboration has shown us the great impact we can have on a sustainable future when we combine our resources, knowledge, and passion for innovation.
But still, these 5 years have not always been easy. As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, we were forced to rethink and jump into a fully digital era. We quickly adjusted implementing virtual streams, roundtables, networking sessions, keynotes, panel discussions, breakfast clubs, LinkedIn-Live-sessions, pub quizzes, coffee breaks, and more. The pandemic taught us to navigate bumps in the road, and even grow stronger because of them. All of this growth would not have been possible without the support of our champions — the main contacts of our corporate partners, with whom we build up the STARTUP AUTOBAHN family.
Driving Innovation from the Inside, to the Outside, and the Other Way Around
Open Innovation does not work by itself; it is an alternative to conventional innovation understanding and makes use of the “purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively” (Chesbrough, 2006) This means that on the one hand, external ideas and technologies are brought into the firm’s own innovation process, but also that on the other hand, ideas and technologies within the company are allowed to go outside to be incorporated into other companies. In this way, our corporate partners can look beyond their own innovation activities and be sure to not miss out on today’s ground-breaking technologies.
“Have you ever watched a seagull landing on water? There isn’t one way they are doing it. They are using various forms and patterns to lend their body to the water and even one of the same seagulls doesn’t use the same way every day. So for me, working on STARTUP AUTOBAHN means trying to think differently and create new solutions while acting as an innovator in electronics […] to help and serve our customers and clients, and ideally all of us.” — Alexander Schmoldt, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Manager Business Innovation & Incubation Europe at Murata
“We really found that [by] connecting and co-creating with others we can learn the most [from others] and be an inspiration to others as leading experts for making technologies safe for mankind to use.” — Kai Ulrich, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Innovation Facilitator at Tüv-Rheinland
Of course, Open Innovation also means a lot of internal communication and organization, especially in large corporations where multiple business units are involved. But guess what? This is exactly where our champions come into play!
“The most important part of my job is connecting all relevant stakeholders. That’s why I kick off each project personally with the business unit and startup. This would also be a recommendation from my side: Kickoff and start off personally — afterwards the communication comes even smoother.” — Maike Hammer, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Open Innovation Manager at Mercedes-Benz AG
“Being a champion to me means to connect well within the company, to understand what the teams need and to find the startups that help us solve those problems or to come forward.” — Frederike Dörfler, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Venture Scout & Alliance Management at Wieland
STARTUP AUTOBAHN Champions — the Driving Force of our Open Innovation Platform
STARTUP AUTOBAHN champions really live up to their title. They act as a bridge between the corporate and the startup world. They are the point of contact within the STARTUP AUTOBAHN network, and within their organization. They are the go-to address if a Business Unit is searching for a technological solution to a specific challenge. STARTUP AUTOBAHN champions are well aware of what is going on in their company, and what new technology trends are prevailing. They are the drivers of PoC’s, investments, and technological implementations. STARTUP AUTOBAHN champions are the enabler of cutting-edge corporate innovation.
“We are a door opener for the startups, the entry point into the world of Mercedes-Benz for our internal experts. We are the bridge to great mindsets, new technologies, and advanced ways of covering their search fields. I work very closely with our internal experts, understand the areas and technologies in which we want to develop and look for new solutions in the world of entrepreneurs.” — Felix Köppenkastrop-Lüker, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion and Venture Partner, Mercedes-Benz
Let us paint you a picture of the role champions play with an example from Porsche. If a business unit employee faces a current challenge or problem, he or she approaches Andy Grau or Christoph Acker, the champions of STARTUP AUTOBAHN at Porsche. Together they structure the current situation, and identify possible solutions. Jointly with our Ventures Team they scout startups and review their technology in 1:1 meetings in order to decide whether they want to co-work with them and realize a Proof of Concept. If this is the case, the startup and the business unit will receive all relevant information from our champions in order to guarantee project success. After the project kickoff, business unit representatives and the startups meet each other in several follow-up meetings to talk about the current status. If the pilot turns out to be successful, the startups prepare themselves with the help of our champions to showcase their technology at our EXPO Day.
“It is important to involve the right people to the right topics at the right time. Highly innovative technologies must be advanced enough to enable a real leap in performance. However, they cannot be too far away from the core business that their implementation poses unsolvable problems.“ — Christoph Acker, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Project Lead Innovation Strategy at Porsche
The ultimate goal: Production-ready implementations
One of the key differentiators of STARTUP AUTOBAHN from an accelerator platform, is the pursuit of production-ready implementations. We don’t just want to test new technologies, we want them to be integrated in the products, processes, and services of our partner companies to master our future challenges and meet the needs of society and nature. Thus, we have moved beyond acceleration and want to evaluate and drive technology in a real-world environment. This enables our partners to stay competitive and keep up with the latest trends and disruptive technologies, without fear of missing out.
“I get to take a peek into the future and [also] get to impact the future of my company.” — Johanna Vähätalo, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Mobility Business Developer at AGC
“Since inception, DXC Technology has been a partner of STARTUP AUTOBAHN. We have ever since strategically committed to the program and implemented collaborative projects shaping DXC’s innovation culture and enabling us to bring innovative experiences to market”, explains Lara Fischuber, champion ofSTARTUP AUTOBAHN at DXC Technology. Together with her colleagues Philipp Wende and Gioele Varvarito, she reviews some of DXC’s successful pilot projects at STARTUP AUTOBAHN: “We were able to successfully integrate BrighterAI’s deep natural anonymization software into DXC’s RoboticDrive platform, enabling high quality image and video anonymization at scale in order to ensure data privacy compliance. Together with WEM’s no-code application platform we successfully worked on our pilot project in program 8 and have since built a strong partnership, implementing scaled enterprise applications at our customers. Our innovation cycle is always in motion and we are up and ready for the next startup projects.”
In order to connect the right solutions with the right problems, a push and pull approach is necessary. Federica Biancon, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion and Open Innovation Manager at Hyundai, explains: “On one side, my job consists of gathering needs, inputs, strategy directions and technological challenges from Hyundai Motor Group and its affiliated companies. And on the other side networking, scouting, and getting in touch continuously with high-potential startups of the European Market that could meet and solve those challenges to make Hyundai future-proof.”
“We really focus on the very early stage of innovation. We bring both new ideas and new startups to the organization, but also manage the shift from the PoC phase into a serial development. When it comes to serial development, there are other people involved. In this way, we make a valuable contribution to our company, because we can help lay the technological foundation for later successful innovations in our vehicles.” — Christoph Acker, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Project Lead Innovation Strategy at Porsche
Cross-Collaboration on a New Level
However, startup collaborations are not the only thing we see great success in; Cross-Collaboration between our corporate partners is equally important. In subject-specific roundtables, our partners can exchange their hottest tech topics and brainstorm potential future startup collaborations. Also jointly hosted events, scouting activities, or informal exchanges increase the interaction between the companies and the team spirit for innovation.
“STARTUP AUTOBAHN has around 29 Corporate partners, which is great because it is a very relevant industry network in the automotive and mobility space. There are lots of opportunities to work together. Whenever one of my customers (the OEM’s) has a technology that they really want to have in the car, it’s very useful for them to already involve a Tier-1 to bring startup technologies into series or basically industrialize the startup technology. And that is what we are eager to explore together with the OEMs. Also we have other players at STARTUP AUTOBAHN who have a very complementary product portfolio to us. Working together and collaborating with them, we want to bring new technologies to life.” — Sebastian Tietz, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Director Open Innovation at Bosch
“Collaboration is a number one priority. It is not a job that you can do in isolation, but you have to collaborate with different people. On the one hand, these are the internal stakeholders; working with the management, technical experts, or the Business Development team. On the other hand, you have the external partners; working together with Plug and Play to make sure that our outcomes from STARTUP AUTOBAHN are beneficial, and working with other champions, to look for opportunities to cross collaborate. And then of course, collaborating with a startup; meeting with them and discussing possible solutions to figure out the best solution and a win-win situation for both parties.” — Urszula Kosidlo, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Open Innovation Manager at Motherson Innovations
If you are wondering how a champion can manage all these activities for an entire company, you’re right to be surprised. It takes ample organizational skills and expertise to have an overview of business unit activities and use cases, to align on the budget and legal aspects of the pilot projects, and to find the right person for the project lead. A pilot roadmap can be helpful to set fixed deadlines and manage the time frame efficiently. Having a thorough address book with large distribution lists, for instance, is the secret formula of our Bosch champion Sebastian Tietz.
“[As a champion] creativity is required to connect the dots; to connect the solutions with the problems.” — Joscha Maerkle-Huss, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Head of Global Scouting at ZF
“Be spontaneous, be flexible! There will be a lot of new things coming across you. There is not only one fixed way to do things, but there are a lot of different ways you can do your job to be successful. Stay open and investigate the opportunities that lie in front of you.” — Urszula Kosidlo, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Open Innovation Manager at Motherson Innovations
At the same time, this is indeed what our champions appreciate about their work: having a large network of people with the same spirit and drive for change. Inspire and be inspired.
“My favorite part about the work with STARTUP AUTOBAHN is meeting all the people that are part of the innovation ecosystem and who all have a spirit of innovation [and] excitement. The whole STARTUP AUTOBAHN network is part of something new. We have the chance to influence how the technology and industry develop, and how it influences society in its day to day life.” — Urszula Kosidlo, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Open Innovation Manager at Motherson Innovations
“I really like inspiring others, or [being] inspired by interesting startups and companies on a daily basis. There is no daily work or work as usual and every day is different.” — Andy Grau, STARTUP AUTOBAHN champion, Innovation Manager & Strategic Value Management at Porsche
Startup Autobahn and Innovation — a Never Ending Love Story
As we look forward to the next five years together, we seek to make innovation more accessible while bringing our company ecosystem closer. We want to boost the ideas of our platform to the next level and think beyond the boundaries of imagination. Future topics such as 6G, space technology, fully autonomous vehicles, net-zero manufacturing and mobility are waiting in the wings. Together with our affiliated partners and startups, we know that we are fully equipped to take the wheel. STARTUP AUTOBAHN will continue to be at the forefront of innovation, tackling our future challenges and heightening the vast impact we can have on our world and our planet.
“The partner network will grow and open up even more to foster collaboration and enable companies to actively shape transformation together. Uprising technologies will continue to change the playing field. Therefore, we need to stay connected and leave our comfort zone to tackle upcoming challenges and leverage possibilities.” — DXC Technology
About STARTUP AUTOBAHN
STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play is an open innovation platform that provides an interface between innovative tech companies and industry-leading corporations. The basis of the program is the partnership that develops between startups and the corporate business units. The two entities hold an equal footing from the get-go: together they evaluate the potential for a joint venture, move forward to pilot the technology and work to achieve the ultimate goal — a successful production-ready implementation. Designed with the intention to exceed startup acceleration, STARTUP AUTOBAHN moderates a community for collaboration with a focus on implementable results. Who are we?
Founding Partners Mercedes-Benz AG, Plug and Play Tech Center, ARENA2036, University of Stuttgart
Anchor Partners ZF, DXC Technology, Porsche, BASF, Webasto, Motherson, DPDHL, Bosch, Schaeffler
Ecosystem Partners Murata, AGC, Hyundai, Linde, BP, Wieland, Jardines, TÜV Rheinland, Faurecia, Eberspächer, ADAC, Sekisui, Plastic Omnium, Zenzic, Maxion, Novelis
About Plug and Play Tech Center
Plug and Play is the leading innovation platform, connecting startups, corporations, venture capital firms, universities, and government agencies. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, we’re present in 35+ locations across 5 continents. We offer corporate innovation programs and help our corporate partners in every stage of their innovation journey, from education to execution. We also organize startup acceleration programs and have built an in-house VC to drive innovation across multiple industries where we’ve invested in hundreds of successful companies including Dropbox, Guardant Health, Honey, Lending Club, N26, PayPal, and Rappi. For more information, visit www.plugandplaytechcenter.com.
Written by Viktoria Schwarze and edited by Jessica Garfield
Hannah Boomgarden, Senior Program Director
Mobile: +49 1514 0009433