Verena Reuber and Stefan Häfner are the faces behind MO14, the ‘innovation booth’ at R + V Versicherung, as they describe their project itself.
For a little over two years, they have been experimenting with the use of highly automated, autonomous minibuses. What has to do with insurance, how to set up a startup in the Group and whether there is a return to the insurance life, we found out during our visit to the Wiesbaden R + V headquarters.
Alone the application process was quite unusual for a long-established company like R + V: the interested parties had exactly 100 words to apply for the new innovation team, which should deal with the overarching topics Connected Car and New Mobility.
The Human Resources Department was literally overrun, leaving six Chosen, among them Stefan Häfner and Verena Reuber.
The requirements for the startup in the group were initially not very specific. Although there were vague ideas at board level – from a little bit of PR through an app to a successful spin-off – a specific goal was not formulated.
Rather, the project team initially wanted to explore a wide range of topics. It was relatively easy to realize that the project was supposed to revolve around the four megatrends of connectivity, autonomous driving, the share economy and electromobility.
“Find the right vessel”
In fact, each of the four trends mentioned has the potential to be insurance-relevant in the future: connectivity is an underwriting issue, and autonomous driving is about the question of who should be insured instead of the owner.
In the share economy, insurers in turn have to manage a large number of users, while in the case of electromobility, home contents insurance can quickly become important if, for example, there are problems with the electricity grid in the residential area due to the large number of charging stations.
When this theoretical basis was established, there was still no “vessel with which to explore these four trends,” says Stefan Häfner. He and his colleague Marcel Heinz had the inspiration on a further education in Berlin, when the two on a test area for the first time with so-called People Movers, autonomously moving minibuses, drove. “Love at first sight,” according to Häfner, Verena Reuber was also enthusiastic about the idea.
“Chef found it less tingling”
Today, the R + V innovation department MO14 consists of the People Mover team, Verena Reuber and Stefan Häfner, as well as colleagues Tim Baumeister and Matthias Jung, who are building a truck parking app to take trucks from the motorway access to safe parking spaces at night to pilot. Marcel Heinz has since left MO14 in favor of a master’s degree.
While Reuber radiates much peace and classifies the connections factually, the enthusiasm at Häfner in each sentence is tangible. It is therefore easy to imagine how, on the day of his return from Berlin, he is highly motivated in the home port of Wiesbaden to come up with his idea of developing an autonomous mobility solution for public transport under the umbrella of R + V.
“The people thought it was great, our former boss found it less sparkling,” Häfner looks back with a grin – he had not denied his spontaneous appearance in the home port in Wiesbaden. But the project sponsors, who accompanied MO14 internally from the beginning, as well as the holding board members were enthusiastic about the ideas of the team and gave the green light to the implementation. MO14, which stands for the origin of the R + V Innovation Lab at Moritzstraße 14 in Wiesbaden, got the first budget for the next development steps.
Last doubters show insight
First, Reuber and Häfner got to know the lengthy processes of product development. In addition to the approval process, the preparation of the specifications and numerous tests, it took a lot of time, above all, to rebuild the brakes, so that the first people movers went into operation one year later than planned.
But when it finally happened in October 2017, the echo was huge: so many journalists came to the press conference with Fraport’s first cooperation partner that the airport operator had to consolidate all of its meeting rooms.
The four-week operation at the airport – two weeks into operation, two weeks’ drive – meant the breakthrough for MO14. Even the last doubters saw that the in-house Startup serves a real need. To date, three additional test fields have been added, in the Marburg industrial park Behringwerke as well as in Wiesbaden and Mainz in public transport. Each test field was supported by a scientific research project to underpin the use of the buses with sound knowledge.
“Enabler in the community”
Even though R + V has provided a budget, Reuber and Häfner depend on external capital. Instead of collecting money in rounds of investment, as is known from typical startups, the project managers have found cooperation partners whose support enabled their use in the respective test fields in the first place.
These include medium-sized companies that use their own technology to repurpose MO14 or rural and local authorities who want to make their public transport sustainable.
“We also made a difference in the community, also as an enabler,” continues Häfner. For example, MO14 would have developed partnerships of third parties, which in particular will further develop the topic of autonomous driving.
Now MO14 is facing a pivot to stay in the founder jargon. More precise one may not yet say, among other things, it should go to other test fields in R + V factory traffic in Wiesbaden. Especially here, there will be a unique, new focus.
“No one has been waiting for us”
That Reuber and Häfner complement each other well is obvious. Otherwise, they could hardly handle MO14 as a couple. But the willingness to help out of the group was also great. Particularly in the development phase, support for topics such as data protection or sales was huge, according to Reuber.
“And that, even though we were on-top of our day-to-day business. Nobody has been waiting for us, “the 33-year-old says in retrospect.
And culturally MO14 has done a lot in the group. In addition to a flexible working time regulation, which was promised to Reuber and Häfner right from the beginning, the ‘you’ at R + V events – at least subjectively – can be heard much more frequently.
Would that be enough to exchange the startup feeling for the normal life of the insurance company? “Currently difficult to imagine” is the perfectly coordinated ‘founding team’ unanimous.
Also published on Medium.