On our journey through the startup world, we meet experts from the most diverse fields. They all have one thing in common: they are passionate entrepreneurs and know what moves and drives the startups of this world. Whether they are investors, business angels or even founders themselves – every interview enriches the view of the startup ecosystem.
Tilo Bonow brings enormous experience with him. He is a business angel, marketing expert and founder himself. Besides his commitment as keynote speaker, jury member and moderator, he is CEO of PIABO, the self-founded and leading PR agency of the European digital economy with headquarters in Berlin. He is a key success driver, ambitious entrepreneur in global markets and a proven expert on the startup scene. We are pleased to meet him in an interview today.
Everyone can learn to act like an entrepreneur!
Tilo, you follow the startup scene of Germany and Europe very closely. Considering the “Corona crisis”, how is our startup ecosystem doing?
Tilo: That varies from industry to industry: those from the e-commerce, education or streaming sectors, to name three examples, have experienced an upswing, while the tourism industry is suffering more. But here too we see differences. For example, Traveltech omio has just completed a financing round worth millions because investors believe in the greater vision. Basically, of course, start-ups have also experienced the consequences of the crisis and have had to familiarize themselves with the new regulations, such as the aid packages and the like. But since they are much more flexible than large companies, many of them were able to adapt to the circumstances comparatively quickly. I see a lot of optimism here and a clear view into the future. Founders with digital business models in particular are adaptable and are more likely to use the crisis as an opportunity and respond competently to new challenges.
What technology trends have you noticed?
Tilo: Particularly in the healthcare sector, but also in Industry 4.0, exciting developments are waiting for us that are just about to get underway. Recently, in my podcast I talked to my guests about artificial intelligence and the medical possibilities of 3D printing – i.e. biotech. Here I see an incredible amount of potential to positively shape society through technology. But I’m also particularly excited about block chain technology. In addition to crypto-currencies, it can create new possibilities in many areas, in administration for the legitimization of official documents online, in the healthcare sector for the electronic patient file, but also in Industry 4.0 for storing the usage data of a machine. A good example of this is e.g. zksystems.io.
Is the mindset of founders changing towards impact, green and sustainability?
Tilo: Absolutely! Topics such as sustainability and climate protection are becoming an important criterion for the founding of new companies, especially for young entrepreneurs. We are increasingly receiving inquiries from the green economy, which shapes many areas of life in society. The Greentech Alliance, which creates social attention, SPRK, which is committed to sustainable logistics in the food supply chain and fights against food waste, or Compleo, which is using AC and DC charging points to promote electric transport in Europe. Compleo has recently successfully completed its IPO.
The Campus Founders in Heilbronn see themselves as the first entrepreneurial “Mindest-Schmiede” in Germany. Can you really learn to think and act like an entrepreneur?
Tilo: I firmly believe that you can and should give young people experience, tips and a certain mindset. One can learn entrepreneurial behaviour quite well, and of course diligence, courage and a pinch natural talent help also. A clever combination of patience and persistence often leads to the goal.
What significance does the digital awakening of the economically strong territorial regions have for you in relation to the overall digitization of our country?
Tilo: Germany has always been very decentralized, so it’s not surprising that there are strong regions, but also hidden champions. Here, politics could perhaps work even more closely with the entrepreneurs, especially those who develop great ideas and have great stories to tell in cities like Heidelberg, Bielefeld and Heilbronn, but nobody hears or reads about them.
You are a communications professional. What advantages do you see in terms of communication when you set up a business away from the startup strongholds?
Tilo: Many advantages lie in storytelling which companies can use outside of the mainstream. After all, a good reputation is also important there for customer acquisition, partnerships and also for recruiting new employees. However, these companies often still have inhibitions, consider their company history too boring or their product too niche, but with courage and the right steps, a story can be told that stakeholders would like to hear. This is also a great opportunity for good personal branding.
What advantages would you emphasize for the startup region Heilbronn? The proximity to medium-sized businesses, the proximity to universities and research or the unique educational approach of the Campus Founders?
Tilo: There are many aspects that make a location attractive. A smaller location – i.e. in comparison to Berlin and Co. – can be very surprising and there is a radiance for the region. I see many advantages here in attracting families as employees who want to be involved in innovation far away from the big city. Land prices and infrastructure also play an important role here. Ultimately, it’s a question of what the other person is looking for, and so it naturally depends on the individual idea in the end. In Heilbronn, the proximity to medium-sized companies such as Läpple pays off especially when it comes to solutions that optimize established processes. Research and universities are a plus for deep-tech innovations, and when I’m looking for great people, the proximity to the campus is unbeatable. I return the question: Why limit yourself to one?
Many startups are now finding the Unicorn aspirations to be contradictory. What do you think of the current “zebra movement” among startups?
Tilo: The classic model of start-ups that only look at profit and profit maximization will certainly be put to the test with the growth of the zebra movement. To provide society with added value and to act in a social, cooperative, sustainable and environmentally conscious manner is a correct and future-oriented maxim. Of course, profitability remains an important factor for sustainable growth, but it is just nice to see how this is being expanded by strong values as a new factor. Success can have many dimensions.
Last question: Is the current “crisis” also an opportunity for the German and European start-up ecosystem to catch up with China or the USA?
Tilo: When new technologies are created in Europe, whether through start-ups or research at universities, they usually end up directly on the international market if they are successful. Our goal must be to build and strengthen these on European soil. Companies in the USA, for example, know exactly where they want to go and often find it easier to find financially strong investors, especially in the later growth phase. German companies often still have to catch up here. After all, we have exciting technologies and great founders who are driving them forward. Although the crisis has awakened the awareness in many German companies that they need to be more visible in the digital world and look for new partners, it will be difficult for Europe and Germany to catch up without the right mindset of founders, the media and venture capitalists. But I am optimistic and see that all parties involved are moving in the right direction, even if I personally think it is taking a long time!
Thanks, Tilo, for your special insights and for investing time in our interview. We are looking forward to hearing, reading and seeing of you.