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

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 June 2 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 16 to 18, Germany’s largest economic congress with more than 60 speakers.

The Start-up Pitch: On November 15 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.


Winner 2019

Ava Information Systems

The story of Ava Information Systems begins in Austin – where Aleksandar Stojanovic attended a digital event and witnessed a wild chase one evening that cost many a life. Stojanovic and his co-founder Sascha Knopp only realised back in Germany that, what appeared to be the most networked place, had failed to provide real-time information to warn its people. For three years, they worked on a solution. Ava operates like a kind of weather forecast – focussing on personal and public safety, rather than on sun and rain, however. Artificial intelligence merges data from a myriad of sources and determines the risk for crime, terrorism, forces of nature, health and much more. Autonomous vehicles, for example, can therefore warn their owners if they are parked in a dangerous area, based on the risk profile of their location. Similarly, smart home systems can already close the shutters if dangers loom in the neighbourhood.

Finalists 2019


Start-ups are often based on real-life events and experiences. This holds true also for the founders of the medical technology company inveox from Munich. During an exchange programme in Arkansas, industrial engineer Maria Sievert stumbled across the fact that tissue samples are often mixed up, resulting in incorrect diagnoses and treatments. Molecular biotechnologist Dominik Sievert experienced this problem first-hand, when his grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. Together, the couple hopes to digitise and automate pathology laboratories, making them more reliable. The start-up company from Munich has collected more than 20 million euros in three rounds of funding. The inveox system consists of three components: a container with a unique code for each tissue sample – up to now, samples are being repackaged several times and labelled by hand – an automatic machine to receive the samples and the AI-supported registration of samples including a platform for data transfer and the communication between the lab and the treating physician.


Their list of customers is impressive in itself: BMW, Zalando and Continental all employ hardware and software of the start-up Kinexon to connect their people, products, machines and tools. Alexander Hüttenbrink and Oliver Trinchera founded the company in 2015. Their idea was born during company tours. Terms like Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory were thrown around. The production they saw, however, was a far cry from being able to organise itself. The processes were rigid and ran within silo-like IT structures. Trinchera remembers that the glaring question was how to connect all components and players to facilitate their communication with each other: “We imagined some kind of fog descending on the entire plant, controlling all processes intelligently and in real time, more efficiently than humans could ever do.” From the outset, Kinexon has been relying on ultra-wideband sensors. Their hardware and software represent the real, haptic world as a digital twin.


It all started at the Technical University of Munich with small series made of plastic. Since then, four years have passed. Meanwhile, Kumovis 3D printer models have found their way to the customer. High-performance polymer products that have been adapted meticulously to the patient, e.g. individual implants, can be manufactured with these printers in the integrated clean room. The print head applies layer after layer of plastic melted at temperatures of up to 400 degrees in a sterile glass chamber. During this process, hot air flows around the component. “Our 3D printers are like furnaces,” Miriam Haerst, a doctor of mechanical engineering, explains. The air flow ensures a good bond between the individual layers and keeps germs and particles at bay. Haerst co-founded the company in 2017 with Stefan Leonhardt, Stefan Fischer, Sebastian Pammer and Alexander Henhammer. They still dream of printing in actual operating theatres. “A first step could entail manufacturing implants near the hospitals rather than in remote labs," says Haerst.


Debt collecting companies are not generally held in high esteem, as they might put pressure on defaulting customers. Stephan Stricker wants to step away from this intimidating background. He is the founder of Berlin’s Fintech Pair Finance. Drawing on modern behavioural research, artificial intelligence and publicly available digital data, the start-up wants to reach out to debtors more individually, i.e. via e-mail, messenger services or SMS. The message contains a link customers may use to settle their outstanding debts. The generation of online customers is used to ordering goods and services on the Internet with one click, without switching media. Why not settle outstanding debts digitally, too? Pair Finance regards itself to be the answer to this question. The start-up is one of many hatched by the company builder finleap. According to Pair Finance, more than 200 companies already use their service. The competition is not insignificant. There are a few hundred debt collection companies in Germany. Pair Finance, however, is not afraid of them.

Social Bee

Initially, Zarah Bruhn had aspired to become an investment banker. Then, she realised that people held a lot more potential than banking and co-founded Social Bee with Maximilian Felsner in 2016. On paper, it is a temp agency, but a non-profit one. The aim is to introduce refugees swiftly to a working life and therefore to society. Social Bee pays them regular wages and finances a one-year integration programme including language classes and workshops on work culture. An integration manager looks after private and professional concerns. Most of their applicants get stuck as early as on the online application form of a company, as they have very little or no German initially and are often poorly qualified. Bruhn measures their success by the takeover rate. Eight out of ten of their employees, who have been with a company for at least three months, now hold a permanent position there. Social Bee has already placed more than 90 people in a permanent job.