Dr. Gisela Linge, Director Corporate Strategy & Development at Webasto, gives an overview of the cooperation within the initiative StartUp Autobahn, launched by Plug & Play.
Webasto is a partner of “StartUp Autobahn” – what was your motivation to participate and what is your current interim conclusion?
In order to further extend our technological leadership in the dynamic automotive industry, we must always innovate and be able to implement new things quickly. In addition we always get external impulses. In exchange with strategic partners, suppliers and start-ups, we develop ideas for the further development of our roof and heating systems and for the expansion of our new business areas for charging stations and battery systems.
In the network Startup Autobahn we have contact with very interesting young companies. We have been involved since autumn 2017 and have already completed 9 pilot projects, currently running 32 projects. In other words, there is a lot of fresh wind from the outside – this is exciting for the many Webasto colleagues who work together with the StartUps and also shows them new personal development opportunities. It is important to us to cultivate the “outside the box”. In this regard, we benefit enormously from our involvement in Startup Highway.
Are there concrete solutions already adapted by Webasto from the projects?
Several of the completed pilot projects are already in roll-out or in roll-out preparation. For example, we took a closer look at the process mining technology as part of a pilot, and today the software solution provided by a StartUp is already rolled out worldwide. Process Mining allows us to use data stored in our software systems, such as SAP, analyze and optimize internal processes. In another project, we are testing a sensor and assistance system in our plants and are now installing several stations for further testing after the pilot project has been completed.
The goal is to support production staff with real-time production instructions, reduce errors, minimize waste and shorten training periods. Also other pilot projects, e.g. An anomaly detection solution for long-term tests of our parking heaters or a solution for easy and fast development of apps will continue to be actively used. In addition, we also focus on concrete product innovations and, with a few start-ups, work on ideas for how we can further develop our products.
What is your general experience of working with StartUps?
Overall, positive. In the scene many resourceful minds are on the way, who think very strongly of the customer benefit of the young generations. We have been close to the automobile manufacturers for decades and know their requirements and wishes. This results in a very fruitful exchange. In addition, the Initiative Startup Autobahn pre-selects the young companies according to our criteria and only proposes those that are also suitable for cooperation with us.
This means that, for example, we can quickly find a common working level due to a technological task. Since tinkerers meet tinkerers. Because of our flat hierarchies, short decision-making processes and our hands-on mentality, Webasto can quickly realize good ideas despite our high quality standards and established R & D processes. In this respect, we are certainly different from many other companies of our size.
The StartUps appreciate that, vice versa we appreciate the thinking and the way of working of StartUps. Incidentally, our colleagues in our new business fields for electromobility also worked in start-up structures in the initial phase. It worked very well, we quickly brought our first products to market and received their first orders.
Can you imagine investing in StartUps as well?
Above all, we are interested in cooperation and not in investment. Together with StartUps – as well as with other partners – we want to develop and implement ideas. Primarily we do not aspire to participate in the companies, but it is not completely excluded.
As you can see in general the startup scene in Germany in comparison to e.g. with the Silicon Valley?
We see a very interesting dynamic of startups in Germany and already work together with several German startups. Their speed and solution orientation are comparable to those of American startups, paired with typical German “virtues” in particular deep technical penetration. This makes them particularly interesting for product innovations, for example in the field of e-mobility, because many of the start-ups are spin-offs from universities. However, we still have some catching up to do in terms of the simplicity and availability of fundraising for StartUps in Germany.
Webasto as a company is also changing dynamically – what is the recipe for success?
Enthusiasm for innovation, the pleasure of working together and bravely daring – this is what Webasto stands for. In 1901, we started producing useful things for the household and field work, later became suppliers of bicycle parts and have been successful in the automotive industry for more than 80 years. We have always considered technical developments and changes in the market as an opportunity and used them for us.
Electromobility, digitization, the trend towards autonomous driving and suppliers that are entering the market are currently changing mobility, and we are continuing to drive forward our corporate development. In accordance with our double strategy Strengthening and Participating, we are consistently strengthening our core business areas for roof and thermosystems and opening up new business areas that fit the company’s competence profile, currently with a focus on electromobility.
Also published on Medium.