Trail Blazers – the Founder Prize of the SZ Economic Summit

For the first time the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Economic Summit held its start-up competition “Trail Blazer”, with awards going to Germany’s best company founders. 8 teams presented themselves on November 18th, 2016, pitching their company on the stage of the Hotel Adlon. Every company had exactly three minutes, after which the best three were selected to face questions from the moderators before the guests in the hall chose the winner: Adheysys Medical.

On this page we present the winning team and the other finalists – and in future will also report on the second edition of the competition. The application phase for “Trail Blazer 2017” begins in early summer and will end on September 30, 2017.




This year's finalists of the start-up pitch at the SZ Economic Summit

Cargonexx GmbH

Logistics rethought Anyone who needs a taxi simply calls one. And if an HGV is needed? Well, the situation is not quite so easy. Until now that is, at least if Rolf-Dieter Lafrenz has anything to do with it. The founder of the startup Cargonexx has set out to establish a platform – digital naturally – which makes it considerably easier for haulage contractors and their customers to find one-another. Lafrenz became aware of the problem as a result of a personal experience: Sitting in a traffic jam on the motorway he noticed how many HGVs were travelling without a load. Now his company sells orders to transport companies and lorry drivers, with Cargonexx functioning as a haulage contractor which is liable to the customers. Thus tours can be planned better – with the important side effect that there are fewer HGVs on the roads due to improved capacity utilisation. The startup calculates the prices with the help of artificial intelligence. Data such as the traffic conditions, weather etc. are fed into the calculation, as are the experiences gained from previous tours. The system also optimises the loading. It is clear that this concept functions best when as many companies as possible participate. This needs a lot of persuasion, and that for every new customer. Currently more than 2,700 transport companies are registered with Cargonexx, with an average of 20 vehicles, however this also includes major players such as Schenker or Kühne + Nagel. Cargonexx is not making a profit yet, however initially it is about expanding the circle of customers as quickly as possible. The larger its platform becomes then the harder it will be for competitors to establish an alternative service. That is the essential feature of platforms. They generally only function well when there is only one or a few of them dominating the market. Helmut Martin-Jung

FreshDetect GmbH

A revolution in freshness That is the vision. A trip to the supermarket, and instead of the more-or-less experienced scrutiny of the goods on the meat counter, all that is needed is the application of a measuring device which customers can use to test the freshness of the displayed meat and cold cuts. This could be the future, at least if Freshdetect has anything to do with it. The young company from Pullach near Munich has developed a technique which, as a supplement to the often day-long procedure of laboratory food testing, already enables meat testers to make a statement about the condition of fresh goods within seconds. “We want to set the standard for controlling the freshness of meat”, explained Oliver Dietrich, CEO of Freshdetect. The 52 year old business administrator, together with his team of employees, now grown to twenty, spent five years developing a small device which in terms of form and size is reminiscent of the handhelds used by ticket inspectors or waitresses for billing. The device, with the somewhat clumsy name BFD-100, measures the total bacteria count in raw meat. The whole thing functions by means of an optical process, the so-called fluorescence analysis, whereby a small round probe with special light emitting diodes is placed directly on the raw meat. Similar to a laser pointer, they illuminate the surface of the meat, providing an image of its microbiological condition. This is then compared with values from laboratory samples of the same type of meat from a database. The more widespread the use of the Freshdetect system, then the larger the database. “This is just the beginning, in future we will also be able to analyse further sections of pork, beef, poultry, and fish using this method, as well as vegetables and salad at a later date,” stated Dietrich. The initial financing has been secured and now the negotiations with customers are underway. Simone Boehringer

reCup GmbH

To-go, but with a good conscience In Germany this sentence can be heard about 320,000 times per hour. “A coffee please, to-go!” Naturally there is nothing objectionable about the sentence in itself. The problem is that it is always followed by a disposable cup which lands in the rubbish a couple of minute later. Thus every year this results in 2.8 billion coffee-to-go cups, amounting to a mountain of trash weighing 40,000 tons. Placed end to end, this would form a chain of coffee cups circling the earth seven times. On top of this there is the 43,000 trees, 3,000 tons of oil, and 1.5 billion litres of water needed for the manufacture of the cups. Coffee-to-go cups are not just the epitome of our disposable society, but primarily a huge environmental problem. In order to reduce the consumption of coffee cups Fabian Eckert, 28, and Florian Pachaly, 22, founded the startup Recup in Munich in September 2016. Their business idea: A deposit system where coffee-to-go cups can be used repeatedly. Coffee-to-go-again, so to speak. The two founders came up with the idea during their studies – due to a seminar and the large number of coffee cups which end up in the university’s rubbish bins every day. The Recup deposit system functions as follows: The customer pays a one euro deposit for the hard plastic cup, receives a discount on the coffee, and can return the cup to any participating café where they are washed and re-used. Recup cups are now available at 437 sites nationally, in cafes, bakeries, organic food stores with cafés, canteens in large companies, and chains such as Coffee Fellows. Some cups – such as those in Munich – feature the city’s silhouette. In total, says Pachaly, there are already seven such city editions, a further four are already in production. Sophie Burfeind

relayr GmbH

Making machines clever Josef Brunner has already founded four start-ups, the last of which he sold to Cisco, the American tech company which is causally referred to by some as the “plumber of the Internet” as it supplies all the technical connections for the network of networks. For the last two years Brunner has headed Relayr, a company from Berlin which is also focussed on establishing connections in the Internet: not between computers but between machines. With its technology – the so-called retrofit kits - Relayr, founded in Berlin in 2013, makes these machines more intelligent, connecting them to the Internet of things, networking them, and equipping them with sensors which record the most important data, uploading it to the cloud where it is evaluated. This enables machine to be remotely serviced and controlled, providing early recognition of worn parts in need of replacement. The startup from the Kreuzberg district of Berlin has staked its claim precisely where many people see Germany’s future in the digital age: It assists classic medium sized businesses and family companies, but also major corporations, in developing business with Industry 4.0: in the chemical industry, machine engineering, and transport. “We are where it is loud and dirty,” states Brunner. Relayr not only supplies its customers with the technology to network machines, it also advises them on how they can develop their business model accordingly, and thus save money. The startup, in cooperation with one of its most important investors, the reinsurance company Munich Re, also offers an insurance that guarantees these savings. All of this is well received by its customers in industry, leading to Relayr’s rapid growth which now has 200 employees: not just in Berlin but also in San José, Chicago, New York, Manchester, Paris, Munich, and Katowice. Ulrich Schäfer

TerraLoupe GmbH

The measurement of the world When we walk down a street we automatically recognise what is going on around us. We can distinguish a dog from a cyclist and an electricity junction box from a traffic light. Up to now machine have not be able to do this. The native of Munich, Manuela Rasthofer, wanted to change this, and said to herself: There are so many pictures and maps of the external world – how can it be that machines can’t recognise anything on them? As a result the 35 year old founded the startup Terraloupe in 2015, together with Christian Schaub and Sebastian Gerke. The company from Munich analyses geoimage data using artificial intelligence, so-called deep learning algorithms. In other words: Terraloupe compiles digital images of the environment and trains machines to recognise what can be seen on them. Terraloupe works with aerial photographs taken from planes as they are more accurate that satellite images. These analyses are interesting for many companies, for example when it comes to future technologies such as autonomous driving. Autonomous vehicles need to be able to recognise what objects are on, or at the edge of the road, and respond to them accordingly. In order to do this car manufacturers need detailed map material and the vehicles need a corresponding software. However, insurance companies also use technology from Terraloupe, enabling them to ascertain how many conservatories would be affected in a city in the event of a hail storm, and where solar plants are located. This helps them with the risk assessment of buildings. Although Terraloupe is only two years old it already has a number of DAX-listed companies as customers. Manuela Rasthofer comes from the military field, where she worked on simulations from aerial photographs, Schaub was at Siemens before the founding, and Gerke conducted research into deep learning algorithms. Sophie Burfeind

volabo GmbH

More drive with less voltage A startup from the Federal Armed Forces? Yes, there is such a thing: Volabo, founded in 2016 in Ottobrunn, has its roots in the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich-Neubiberg. It was here that the founders, Adrian Patzak, Florian Bachheibl, and Dieter Gerling met at the Department for Electrical Drive and Actor Technology, which was headed by Gerling. The team developed an electric motor which operates in the low voltage range: conventional electric motors require a voltage of 400 Volt, the Volabo variant only needs 48 Volt. In order to achieve this the founders replaced the copper coils of conventional motors with aluminium rods with short-circuit rings. They call the new technology Intelligent Stator Cage Drive, ISCAD for short. According to the developers it is cheaper to manufacture and is beneficial to the environment in a number of ways: On the one side, Volabo motors can save up to 30 percent energy compared to other electric drive units, or employ it for a greater range. On the other, neither copper nor rare earths are needed for their manufacture. On top of this special safeguards are unnecessary due to the low voltage. Car drivers or breakdown mechanics no longer need worry about getting a shock after an accident. Repair shops also have it easier with the maintenance and repair. Volabo – Latin for “I will fly” – currently has twelve employees and a turnover of 1.5 million euros. While the company recorded a loss in its founding year, the startup now anticipates its first profits in the current year. Volabo has been financed by customer projects. The three founders are also making long-term plans: Their application for the “Trail Blazer” competition consisted of a fictional look-back on the company’s history on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the date: 29/07/2036. Then, according to the dream, ISCAD technology will also be used to dive the Hyperloop. Katharina Kutsche

Trail Blazers Wanted

The competition To this day, innovative founders are decisive for the future of our economy. That is why this year the Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Economic Summit will be distinguishing the best of them. The start-up competition “Trail Blazers“ will be open for submissions from 01. July to 01. October. It is open to young companies that are older than six months and younger than five years and have their domicile in Germany. The competition is directed at all companies which have developed an innovative product or an exciting business model and will be held over two rounds.

The preliminary round In the middle of October the jury composed of editors from the SZ’s business section will select the six finalists from amongst all the applicants. These “Trail Blazers“ will be invited to participate in the SZ Economic Summit from November 16 to 18 at the Hotel Adlon, Berlin, Germany’s largest economic congress with over 60 speakers.

The start-up pitch On November 18, each of the six “Trail Blazers“ will have the opportunity to present their business idea and company on the stage of the Economic Summit at the Adlon. They will be given precisely two minutes. This will be followed by the selection of the winner by a very special jury: All participants at the SZ Economic Summit will have the opportunity to vote via App; many of you are experienced entrepreneurs and managers who know what counts are interested in new companies and innovative ideas. That is why the motto for the competition is: “Start-ups meet Grown-ups“. The pitch will be supported by Berlin Partner, Berlin’s business development agency.

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: printed, digital, and in the social media. In addition the eight finalists and other interesting applicants will be presented on the website The twitter hashtag for the start-up competition is #Gipfelstürmer.


Elisabeth Dostert & Sophie Burfeind
Business Editors - Süddeutsche Zeitung