Treasure Hunting: Finding the one great Startup

Networker, matchmaker, startup scout. A treasure hunter seeking for the one great startup within hundreds. An adventurer fighting my way through the corporate jungle to find the right colleague to connect with the Startup – this is what I’m doing at the Startup Intelligence Center.

To give you some insights into my daily work and to clarify some stereotypes and expectations about this job, I will take you with me.

Before the event: Do your homework

It’s November and this means Web Summit, the largest tech conference in the world, is taking place. We are now standing in a hall filled with people from all over the world – showing prototypes, discussing business opportunities. Where shall we start?

At the Startup Intelligence Center, we have two approaches: On one hand, on-demand scouting for certain pain points of our business units as well as customers, and on the other hand, general scouting to keep up with the latest technology trends.

To foster innovation, we encourage our colleagues to bring their ideas to the next level and start quickly prototyping. At Daimler Financial Services, this can be either done internally in our development/incubation team HOISTAR – Hands On Innovation Starter – or externally with the help of a startup.

The magic happens at our office desk

Here the Startup Intelligence Center joines the game: As soon as the pain point from a business unit drops in our mailbox sic@daimler.com, we activate our network. We are well-connected to all startup activities across the Daimler group and we work with external accelerators like Plug&Play, The Bridge and Factory Berlin. Besides, we already have gradually accumulated a large startup database from previous scouting. Our goal is to help startups grow and succeed.

Although this blogpost is about attending an event, most of the magic happens at our office desk: Call, text, research. Call again, text twice, research more. Never give up.

The hot startups are much sought-after by other corporates and for most of our colleagues innovation projects are on top of their daily work. That’s why we try to support the process as much as we can.

Searching for the latest trends

A couple of times a year, we attend tech events to learn about the latest trends and to find out whether there is anything outside we are missing. Our biggest interest lies in FinTech (Financial Technology), InsurTech (Insurance Technology) and mobility startups. We also monitor big tech trends like Artificial and Emotional Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Blockchain. Therefore conferences which cover one of these search fields are interesting for us.

Before the event, we go through the attendee list: Whom should I meet? Which startups could fit our company? Are there some interesting speeches and workshops that I need to register for?

With the most promising startups we try to setup meetups beforehand. At Web Summit, there is a supporting app for that. The week before the event is usually filled with making lists, setting up a schedule and printing business cards. Preparation is the key as there won’t be a single free minute at the conference.

Networking mode on

It is very fascinating but as soon as you are at the airport, you can feel – the show has started. Everyone has uncovered their talkative side, pitching their idea before boarding, business cards flying around.

As a startup scout, you are not allowed to be shy and you should have the stamina to talk for four successive days. More importantly: Listen carefully and ask the right questions to not only learn about the idea and vision of the startup, but also get some information about the founders and find out whether they already have some first customers.

The days at the event are filled with scheduled meetings and approaching interesting startups. The market stalls are lined up by maturity of the startup or by topic. Web Summit is basically a giant tech fair. The scouting is mutual at those events – we scout for startups and the startups also scout for us.

That’s why it’s also important to represent our company when startups approach us. We therefore try to have a Startup Intelligence Center booth as well to offer an anchor point for startups that seek to get in touch with us.

Develop the idea and make a business out of it

Apart from our interested fields, there are many other criteria which help us to rate a startup. Well, this is a science in itself, but the most venture capitalist in the world will tell you: Teams beat ideas. Everyone can have an idea and it’s usually not unique. The trick is to develop it and make a business out of it. That’s why it’s so important to get to know the founders in person. In the end of the day it’s a people business.

As a startup scout, it is important to think about opportunities rather than worry about barriers. If a startup team is extremely interesting but their current product does not fit our portfolio perfectly, it still could be beneficial to keep in contact and find out whether we can create synergies in the long run. One example is our cooperation with Familonet: we invested them in order to have access to a well-skilled expert team.

After the official event day, the networking part continues in the evening. Several after-work events take place which give you even more occasions to connect.

After the event: Work starts

Well, the hardest part of the work starts after the event. To connect the right startup to the right colleague is a challenge. As I said in the beginning, startup scouts are networkers. Especially internal networkers.

The first thing to do back in the office: Go through all the notes as long as everything is fresh in mind, fill in the information about promising startups in our database and share the outcomes with the network. It is important to approach the colleagues that had a pain point or could be interested in the startup so that in the end it becomes more than a data sheet.

At Startup Intelligence Center, we therefore support the business units during the execution phase as project managers. We organize internal pitch sessions to connect the startups with our topic and business experts.

In case we all come up with an interesting use case, we sign a contract for a prototype with the very ambitious goal to develop it within 100 days. But then, we are not in our role as a startup scout anymore but become digital innovators and rapid prototypes. But this a story for another time.


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Sabrina Hiller is Digital Innovator and Startup Scout at Daimler Financial Services in the team Innovation & Partnerships.

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