The new "breakthrough" accelerator
The Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region is about to become even more interesting for start-ups: the fresh Up2b accelerator program is a joint venture consisting of three strong partners. Coming from from Mannheim, Walldorf and Heidelberg, they have united to provide better support for start-ups. To find out why Up2b is a real „breakthrough“ we met up with Paul Becker (Technologiepark Heidelberg), Thomas Lindner (innoWerft Walldorf) and Florian Fischer and Pricila Weixler (Startup Mannheim).
Up2b is currently using the slogan: „Wanna break through?“. How do you answer this this question towards start-ups in IT?
Thomas Lindner: We have set out to bring more coherence and consistency to the start-up scene in the Rhine-Neckar region.
And how will that happen?
Thomas Lindner: We all feel that the start-up scene in the Rhine-Neckar region can be better promoted if we present ourselves as a region, rather than singular cities. If you look at Silicon Valley, which is a real paragon of this idea, then you will find it stretches along a length that reaches from Darmstadt to Karlsruhe. I believe that with the b2b-driven start-ups, with the high-tech and so forth, we can create a cluster in the region, that can very well compete with München, Berlin or Frankfurt.
Pricila Weixler: Every location has its advantages, which allows the regional players to complement each other perfectly. And start-ups are more part of the region than a city.
Florian Fischer: This is the first time we are all so closely working together. We aren’t just supporting each other, or doing preliminary work for each other, but are reliable partners that see eye to eye.
Thomas Lindner: Exactly! And we want to develop a brand for this. No matter what a start-up should need, they can find it in the region: middle class, support, corporations or co-working spaces.
Florian Fischer: We want to create a central contact point, everything is centrally pooled, thus creating more transparency. Our cooperation has given us insight into what everyone else is doing, so we can channel requests by start-ups much better.
Who are you targeting?
Pricila Weixler: Primarily start-ups, but also corporations that are interested in getting in contact with start-ups. In the end it’s all about the ecosystem, not about a single contact point. We want to have different players in the game to offer start-ups the optimal conditions. The reason everyone is so keen on Berlin, is because of the ecosystem they offer.
Thomas Lindner: …and the b2c-crowd can gladly run off to Berlin. We like to say: If anyone is interested in starting up in b2b, in high-tech, or in medical technology for example, can come to us, to the Rhine-Neckar region. We’ve got everything necessary on offer: universities, corporations, clients, the highest density of DAX companies, great medium-sized companies and so forth. And everything is half an hour away by city train!
What are Up2b’s objectives?
Paul Becker: It has several dimensions. In the end we are successful if the start-ups are successful, because we supplied the beneficial conditions for them. If we can generate 20 medium-sized companies and a beacon, then we really made something happen! In the medium term it is a success to get the country on the page that the region is great for start-ups. Though that is only a means to an end.
How are you planning on making that happen?
Paul Becker: The accelerator is a bundling of forces, to help start-ups. The pillars of the accelerator are programs such as „Breakthrough“, a nine-week program for early-stage-start-ups, to make them marketable. Another program was „Firecamp“, for start-ups that are already market-ready, to make them investment-ready.
Florian Fischer: These elements have a build-up effect. You can visit them one after the other, or just a single program. This way we offer a long-term, stringent support phase. Any one of these programs is cooperative. Every partner brings along their expertise and network. We don’t just connect start-ups with the regional market leaders CEOs or with investors, but beyond that we want to establish a network of support amongst the start-ups as well. At the end of our programs the focus is always on the teams and their work.
Thomas Lindner: And all this is offered in various forms, with differing goals and target groups, and in various places around the region – and it’s all for free! Other accelerators will often demand shares or the like, which we don’t. We don’t have to profit financially as we are publicly subsidized. With „Firecamp“ we selected 12 start-ups from many applicants. „Breakthrough“ offered spots for 25 start-ups, so around 75 people. „Firecamp“ hosted over 20 mentors, 8 of which were investors, 4 lawyers, and 2 pitch-trainers. „Breakthrough“ hosts 80 mentors!
Everything pro bono?
Thomas Lindner: Almost, with the exception of professional providers such as the pitch-trainers. For such things we are subsidized by the Land and by the European Union, through the European Social Fund (ESF). To cover the next three years we have around one million euros for the program. 50% are funded by the EU, 30% by the Land, and the final 20% are our contribution.
How many employees are at Up2B?
Thomas Lindner: At the moment we have a staff of four. But there are some of our own firms people that will help out. Unfortunately we can’t use the funding for material resources, so we have to take care of costs for catering, materials and the like, from our own money. But so are the funding guidelines of the ESF.
What value added does the program generate?
Florian Fischer: As a start-up region the value added we can offer is the high density of large corporations, and the intermediation between them and the start-ups. We create a framework that enables start-ups to grow faster. The subject of scalability is also significant. To ensure scalability we need a viable product, that matches up with consumer expectations. To test their product and determine its viability many start-ups don’t have the right access to a consumer base. Usually the start-ups can’t offer the necessary credibility and brand recognition. Which is something the big players have no problem with.
Pricila Weixler: At the same time corporations are on the look-out for new tech and more dynamic work models. This allows for a win-win-situation. On the other hand the parties are often very far divided culturally. Corporations have a very different feel for time and resources, while start-ups function more dynamically. An intermediary platform is necessary. We step in and help to ensure that both parties can concentrate on cooperating and growing.
Thomas Lindner: It’s about sparring, feedback, challenging new ideas and focusing resources. We will really push start-ups into the market. Most start-ups in tech think: „We have to finish the code before we market the product“. The thing is though: software is never finished! This causes them to miss the right window or never get out there even. When the market tells you: „Nice idea. But a tad late!“, most of your energy is often gone. This is why we tell people to get out there by all costs. If all you have is a screen prototype, or a mock-up … get out and test the thing! Find out all you can about consideration and willingness to pay for the product!
Florian Fischer: Us Germans aren’t risk takers and tend to stride to carefully. But the right way to start up is to be ballsy! Just do your thing, get funded and rapidly scale! It’s not for everyone, and that’s fine. But if you really want it, you need the right framework. There are infinite ideas, and everyday problems have the potential to produce big start-up ideas. If you want to be successful you have to be the fastest to market the product. It’s all about proactively sharing information and learning from each other. Our program is a great place to achieve this.
Why the focus on tech start-ups and b2b?
Paul Becker: For one, there are strong companies in these areas in the region, such as SAP and BASF. Theses guys are interested in in b2b offers. Also there are many university graduates with technical degrees, for example from Karlsruhe, that are interested in starting up. And lastly Berlin ist the place to pursue b2c start-up ideas, and Munich is all about engineering. The Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region is where to be if you are interested in a start-up in IT with a b2b focus.
Interview: Paul Heesch / LA.MAG Content. Corporate. Communication.
Photos: Sebastian Weindel