The SZ Economic Summit honours the most innovative founders – with the help of a special jury

WOW - once again we are thrilled about the many great applications for this year's Trail Blazers competition. Now a jury composed of editors from the SZ’s business section will select the six finalists from amongst all the applicants.
The SZ accompanies the competition with portraits of founders and founder regions beyond the metropolises.



Trail Blazers Wanted

The competition: A country without company founders is a country without a future. That is why this year the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Economic Summit will be distinguishing the best of them for the fourth time. The start-up competition “Trail Blazers” will be open for submissions from May 19 to August 31. It is open to companies that are older than six months and younger than five years and have their domicile in Germany.

The competition will consist of two rounds.

The Preliminary Round: In October a jury composed of editors from the SZ’s business section will select the six finalists from amongst all the applicants. These “Trail Blazers” will then be invited to participate in the SZ Economic Forum at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin from November 10 to 13, Germany’s largest economic congress with more than 60 speakers.

The Start-up Pitch: On November 10 the six finalists will have the opportunity to represent their business idea and their company from the podium of the economic summit at the Start-zp-Night in the Kalkscheune. Each start-up will have precisely three minutes. This will be followed by the selection of the winner by a very special jury: All participants at the SZ Economic Summit will vote via app. Many of them are experienced entrepreneurs and managers that know what it takes. They are curious about founders and their ideas. That is why the motto for the competition is: “Start-ups meet Grown-ups”.

The Series: The Süddeutsche Zeitung will be accompanying the “Trail Blazer“ competition over the coming weeks with a series about founders in Germany – and that on all of its channels: print, digital, and in the social media. In addition the six finalists and other interesting applicants will be presented on the website The twitter hashtag for the start-up competition is #Gipfelstürmer.



The last year's summit storm really blew us away - we had many more applications and above all: the quality of the applications was even higher than last year. This shows that Germany is a founder country: Germany is a founding country, its start-ups are getting better and better, more and more innovative, and their business models even more mature. A country in which so many people live who have the courage to set up their own business with their ideas also has a strong economic future.


We congratulate the trailblazer 2018

Blue Go

The story of Blue Go starts at the university in Munich. The founders of the start-up company Lucas Böhnisch, Felix Pröhl and Marina Weinehl met there. One of them does not come from Munich and he was annoyed at the tariff system of the Munich transport company. A lot of people experience that in strange cities. The start-up company, founded in 2018, has developed software for them that can be used to book tickets automatically. "In order for passengers to be able to use the service, public transportation companies have to integrate the software into their own apps," says co-founder Weinehl. The sensors installed in the smartphone automatically detect the beginning and end of a journey by public transport and the cheapest ticket is booked. A prototype of the software has already been tested with Stadtwerke Augsburg since this summer. They are also financing the development. "We want to complete the development by autumn 2019 and then offer the product to transport companies," says Weinehl. The potential is huge. According to the Association of German Transport Companies, more than ten million customers in Germany use public transport buses, trains and trams every year. Almost a quarter of the passengers already book their journey via the app of the respective transport company and the share is rising.

This year's other finalists:


The laser sensors of the Munich-based start-up Blickfeld are to provide the perfect all-round view. Self-propelled cars need such images in order to recognise dangers in traffic, but also autonomous systems in industry, so that, for example, mobile robots and people in the factory do not bump into each other. Mathias Müller, Sebastian Neusser, Florian Petit and Rolf Wojtech founded the company in 2017. The Lidar sensor developed by Blickfeld provides high-resolution, three-dimensional environmental data. It is based on commercially available components, which make the system less expensive and therefore suitable for mass production, in combination with a patented silicon structure. The core piece is a radiation deflection unit consisting of two micro mirrors, which in turn are produced from wafers. These are controlled by software and guide the laser beam over the scene. The laser beam is reflected by objects and a high-resolution image is calculated from the reflected light in real time. Blickfeld's technology quickly convinced investors. To date, Fluxunit, the venture capital branch of lighting manufacturer Osram, Tengelmann Ventures, the high-tech start-up fund and Unternehmertum Capital Ventures have invested almost 8.6 million euros in the start-up. In 2019, it intends to have the first product manufactured in series. Speed is of the essence as Blickfeld is not the only one working on sensors for environmental monitoring – this market is huge.

Hawa Dawa

The air is polluted in German cities. Fine particles and harmful greenhouse gases endanger the health of the people who live there. The start-up Hawa Dawa combines hardware and software. Inexpensive, compact sensor boxes, which are energy self-sufficient if required by using solar energy, are distributed at various locations in the city. The data obtained there is calibrated using machine learning methods, combined with other data such as traffic, wind or weather data and evaluated using smart algorithms via the AI-supported software platform. This produces an overview of the air quality in real time. Co-founder Karim Tarraf knows the dangers of air pollution all too well from his home city of Cairo. He won a hackathon at the TU Munich in 2015. Actually, he wanted to develop a mobile device for asthmatics. It became more than that. The name of the start-up is programmatic. In Arabic, the name Hawa Dawa means air medicine or air purity. "If one not only suspects but actually knows how high air pollution is at any given location, the polluters can be identified more easily, preventive measures can be implemented more effectively and, as a logical consequence, the cities can be made greener," says Tarraf.

Pro Glove

Everything that arrives at a factory or warehouse and leaves it must be registered. In the digital factory, everything is networked with one another. The smart gloves of the Munich-based start-up Workaround help to facilitate this. Its first product family is called Pro Glove. A scanner sits on the back of the glove, and if the trigger is activated on the index finger, the scan function is enabled. In 2014, Thomas Kirchner, Paul Günther, Jonas Girardet and Alexander Grots teamed up to compete in an Intel competition for wearables with an intelligent glove. Many workers wear overalls, work shoes, protective helmets and gloves. So why not use an existing part of the gear to make production smarter and more efficient? Employees perform some movements several hundred times a day. A few seconds saved in a single work step add up to hours and days over the day for all employees of a particular category. Time is money. The glove is well received by customers and investors alike. Customers include corporations such as Kuka, BMW and John Deere. Among the investors are Intel Capital, Gettylab, Deutsche Invest Capital and Bayern Kapital. Since its foundation, Workaround has raised 7.5 million euros. The founders have already been working on the next product for some time now. An intelligent display on the wrist that guides the wearer through the warehouse and shows where he can find the product he is looking for or explains the next step.


Everyone is talking about digital transformation. But the new way of working often does not fit into old structures and working models. There is a lot of knowledge in every company, yet it is not being used. The Berlin-based start-up Tandemploy wants to change this and modernise the working world within a company by bringing together people and knowledge through software. Employees create a profile and use a matching algorithm to find the right colleague for the next working group, a mentor or someone for job sharing. The founders Anna Kaiser and Jana Tepe are themselves a good tandem. Tepe likes to come to the office early, Kaiser likes to work in the evenings. And they both travel a lot because their idea is well received. According to the start-up, clients include corporations such as SAP, Evonik, Beiersdorf and Innogy. Kaiser and Tepe want to demonstrate what they preach in their own company. The start-up team works flexibly. According to the website, there are three job-sharing tandems, four interdisciplinary teams, five freelancers and twelve colleagues with a four-day week. The "Bavarian Holiday Regulations" apply at the Berlin office: there are four more days of public holidays than usual in Berlin. "Everyone spends valuable time here and should feel that it is being used sensibly. There are certainly people who separate work and life more than others, but we want to create an environment that doesn't force anyone into a role," Kaiser says.


Anyone can operate any software. Sounds utopian. But that's exactly what Userlane promises. The start-up wants to guide users through software step by step and in real time. Userlane is convinced that companies will be able to solve several problems at once. You can hire employees even if they do not have certain software skills. You save time and money for training, that's what the software takes care of. The start-up currently has a few hundred clients, including Commerzbank, Allianz and the City of Munich. Software vendors such as Celonis and Shore have integrated Userlane into their own solutions to train their users. "We run on almost any software in the world," says Kajetan Uhlig, who founded the company together with Felix Eichler and Hartmut Hahn. They want to close the knowledge gap between man and machine. "The focus of digitisation is the human being. Technology should not stand in our way but rather pave the way for us. Our goal is to close the knowledge gap between man and machine completely, so that anyone can use any software immediately without any training," says co-founder Hahn. According to the company, as of mid-September, more than 7.2 million people are already being trained with the software today. There's going to be a lot more.




Your contact persons

Elisabeth Dostert
Business Editor Süddeutsche Zeitung