“We must respect the boldness of startups.”

How can automobile manufacturers and startups work together and promote innovation most effectively? A joint event in Berlin showed that there are various ways to do this.

We hear the stereotype over and over again: on the one side are the conservative, sluggish automotive industry, and on the other are progressive and agile mobility startups. One is clinging to the technology of the past, while the other is already defining the mobility of tomorrow. Organized by the German Association of the Automotive Industry together with the German Startup Association e.V. (BDS), the “Mobility of the Future” event held in Berlin on March 9, 2017 showed that startups and the automotive industry have already been working together for quite some time.

Sitting on the podium next to VDA CEO Dr. Kay Lindemann were Tom Kirschbaum, a board member of the BDS who established his own startup, door2door, and Jörg Rocholl, who is following developments from his perspective as president of the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. “Startups and industry face the same challenge: finding intelligent solutions for people’s future needs. Solutions for this can only be developed together,” said Lambert.

Kirschbaum, who wants to use the startup door2door to offer mobility that is better networked and optimized by artificial intelligence in cities, believes that established companies and startups can learn a lot from each other. Yet, he says that it is even more important that smart data use not be placed under general suspicion when it comes to data privacy. “If we want less congested inner cities and better, more innovative mobility at the same time, we need to release individual, very well-defined data,” said Kirschbaum. Jörg Rocholl was convinced that cars will indeed be used differently in the future, but also that they will not diminish in importance, as some have claimed.

The subsequent presentations by young entrepreneurs and automobile manufacturer representatives demonstrated that tangible cooperation between startups and industry is already a reality. For example, Gregor Gimmy presented the “BMW Startup Garage”, which the Bavarian corporation will use to sustainably promote startups and integrate their technology into its own products. This will be done without investments, however. Instead, BMW plans to buy the startups’ products within the framework of Startup Garage: “From our point of view, being a paying customer of the startup and not just buying shares in it is much better for both sides,” said Gimmy.

Daimler has a very different approach with its “Startup Highway”: this is the name of a startup accelerator which the automobile manufacturer established to help startups create prototypes from ideas as quickly as possible. Daimler provides the startups with a hardware laboratory in Stuttgart. The corporation also sends the new companies to Silicon Valley, where it supports them in cooperation with the “Plug and Play” innovation network, the goal being to have the startups create a product that is ready for the market as quickly as possible.

One tried-and-tested example of cooperation was presented by door2door and Audi: at the 2017 Berlinale, the two companies offered the “allygator shuttle” service to guests. This brought them to the hotspots of the Berlinale free of charge. Each trip was shared by different users wanting to travel a similar route, and each was controlled and optimized by an algorithm.

Johann Jungwirth, Chief Digital Officer at Volkswagen, showed that cooperation with startups can lead directly to new products. He presented the driverless electric car study “Sedric” and also explained how intensively the corporation, together with startups, is working on future vehicle concepts at its three Future Centers in Beijing, San Francisco and Potsdam. “It is necessary to respect the innovative capacity and boldness of startups. And to meet them on an equal footing,” said Jungwirth.