E-Mobility Startup Landscape and Future

Interview with Sascha Karimpour, Plug and Play Tech Center

In the lead-up to the 4th Green Auto Summit 2023, Sascha Karimpour, Partner at Plug and Play Tech Center and Co-Founder of STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play, sat down for an interview by the event organizer InLinum Events to explore the challenges faced by mobility startups and discuss the significance of events in shaping the future of the mobility sector and aiding startup success in this dynamic ecosystem. Below is the short version of the video interview.

Sascha Karimpour, Plug and Play, interview by Mykolas Mataciunas, InLinum Events, on the premises of the IAA Mobility Week 2023 in Munich, Germany.

Could you give us a brief overview of Plug and Play and STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play? What inspired you to create the platform?

I’ve been with Plug and Play for about eight years now. Plug and Play is the world’s biggest innovation platform represented in more than 50 locations. We run over 70 open innovation platforms globally, bringing together industry stakeholders and startups to implement innovation in certain verticals with mobility being one of our strongest fields.

Startup ecosystems exist all over the world — from Silicon Valley to Israel, China, Singapore, and even here in Germany. On the other hand, there are big corporations, looking for innovation and young tech companies: imagine engineers sitting in one place and a startup sitting somewhere. The idea was to bring these two together. STARTUP AUTOBAHN based in Stuttgart is the first open innovation program by Plug and Play internationally. The initiator was Mercedes-Benz, known as the inventor of automotive and the main driver of innovation in the automotive industry.

How do you make big corporations and their business units engage with the young tech companies?

If you have to bring the international startups to Germany and ask a startup from China or Japan, where Stuttgart is, no won’t reply. But Plug and Play has built up a great reputation not only by being able to support them with money but more importantly, to help them scale their business. To make it work, the startup needs to connect with a big corporation, such as Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, or Hyundai, find the right person within the organization, establish a project, and get a result. It’s not that easy and there’s no guarantee that it’ll lead somewhere. This is the process that we’re trying to make more efficient.

On the scouting front, we don’t have a problem: out of more than 600 employees globally, 200–250 people are venture scouts. Having different backgrounds, from engineering to biochemistry, they’re active on both the investment side and the tech side. There are a million startups globally every year. You need to have the whole funnel process that involves your partners, engineers, and scouts, to make it work. But eventually, it’s engineers. who decides, what tech company they like to work with.

Out of 20 startups pre-filtered by us, engineers will pick four to six they want to engage with. Then we invite those few startups to Stuttgart introduce them, and brief them. If you have a framework with defined processes regarding legal, procurement, etc., it makes things much easier.

If you have a timeline where you say: let’s test each other for a few weeks or months, and then, if successful, we go into a deeper pilot project, roll it out, or implement it on a small scale first, this is fantastic! If you stop after a few weeks or two months, that is also fine, because it is impossible to implement all startup technologies that you initiate. There are so-called “transfer rates” — how many startups go from the PoC to implementation, and we’ve been quite successful in this regard with our partners: our transfer rate is about 30 percent, which is good.

What does sustainable mean about the environment in automotive?

When talking about the needed shift towards sustainability and circularity in the automotive sector, we have to consider the full lifecycle of vehicles:

1. Production: materials, design, processes, CO2 capture, and tracking)

2. During Life: predictive maintenance, battery management systems, smart grids)

3. End of Life: re-/upcycling, circular platforms, second life applications, etc.)

How Open Innovation can help promote sustainability? What do STARTUP AUTOBAHN and Plug and Play do to get us closer to the future of sustainable mobility?

  • Projects focused on sustainability, developed by startups and corporate partners: at EXPO2023 and project teasers on Medium.
  • Challenges for startups, academia, and businesses to scale up their innovative solutions: with Hyundai CRADLE and with LG Chem.

Startups and their focus areas in sustainability

What do you think the future holds for Startup Autobahn and Plug and Play?

Honestly, when we started this initiative in Stuttgart seven and a half years ago, we were not 100 percent sure, if it’s going to fly. But luckily we in Stuttgart became the hottest platform for corporate-startup collaboration, because there was a need of the automotive industry to innovate. And I think it will grow even more in the future. Our long-term partners like Mercedes-Benz, Bosch, and others, are very much used to work with startups. But there are many companies out there, that are still new to the topic. They might have invested or had a touch point, but in order to make it part of your innovation strategy, there’s a lot to be done.

Besides, the services that we at Plug and Play are providing are becoming more and more complex: it’s not only basic scouting, it’s bigger topics, more engagements with business units. As for more concrete plans, in Stuttgart, we’re looking more now into the topics like heavy duty and smart city. Geographically, at Plug and Play we’re also looking towards India, Bulgaria, set foot in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

What are the benefits for Plug and Play collaborating with industry events and platforms?

We at Plug and Play and STARTUP AUTOBAHN are very focused on success for our partners and startups we are working with. But there won’t be any startups, if there are no ecosystems, where they can thrive. There’s a lot of ecosystem players out there — accelerators, events — that are connecting people, experts, startups, and partners. And we complement each other, right? We help each other thrive. Industry events showcase certain expertise and new technologies. It’s one ecosystem, and we are happy to be part of it.

See the full version of the interview on YouTube.



STARTUP AUTOBAHN powered by Plug and Play

We are an open innovation platform connecting startups with industry-leading corporates to work together on the future of tech. https://startup-autobahn.com/