STARTUP AUTOBAHN: My Top 5 experiences with the think tank of the future

It’s always rush hour in the tech world, as new ideas and applications are constantly being created. The key to success is to filter the most attractive trends in an intelligent way. So, how does Daimler do that? The answer: Opening doors for startups and other partners.

STARTUP AUTOBAHN offers one example of this approach. For the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of this innovation platform – and here are my Top 5 experiences with it.

TOP 1: The highlight

“Everyone knows that innovation also means opening doors.” With this in mind, the STARTUP AUTOBAHN platform brings together young entrepreneurs and established industrial companies. Daimler was one of the platform initiators back in 2016, and the third round of the program was just recently completed. And what a round it was — with more than 1,000 startups participating once again. STARTUP AUTOBAHN ended up uncovering 33 “diamonds” in its scouting, selecting, pitching, and investing phases.

The highlight of this program round was the Expo Day in Stuttgart, which brought the finalist visionaries together with industrial partners. After 100 days of sweat and focused team spirit, the finalists were at last able to show the world the fruits of their efforts.

More than 900 representatives from industrial companies, as well as investors, inventors, and thinkers, showed up to learn about the best innovations — the DeLoreans, so to speak — from countries such as France, Israel, The Netherlands, Austria, Finland, England, and the U.S.

The “People’s Choice Award” for the best pitch was won by the Swiss startup WayRay and its holographic navigation system. The idea is to use the future possibilities of augmented reality to display additional visual information that enhances navigation features and makes them more user-friendly. Cool innovations are to be found not only in the product but also in the process.

Here some impressions from last year’s Expo Day:

TOP 2: Discoveries

Straight from the lab to the street: what3words — a startup that emerged from the second round – has made it. They’re out on the road with a new type of address system that divides the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigns each one a unique and easy to understand three-word address. All of us at Daimler are extremely proud that this system has now been included as standard equipment for the first time ever in the new A-Class. The words clap.swipes.chemistry take you directly to Daimler in Sindelfingen. Who says the world is a complex place?!

Daimler development departments were able to take an outstanding project with the startup through to success in just a short time. This excellent collaboration was honored with the Global Innovation Award at Expo Day in February. An example such as this one reinforces everyone involved in their belief that they are existing in a melting pot consisting of two worlds — the world of large corporations and the world of dynamic startups. After all, it’s all in the mix.

Team what3words

TOP 3: The family is growing

More and more cooperative partners in industry are joining the network. Or, to put it another way, the family is growing! The products that are emerging from the partnerships are also becoming multifaceted. At the end of 2017, there were a total of 19 partners in STARTUP AUTOBAHN, including Daimler, and more than 130 projects have resulted from the latest round of the program. By now STARTUP AUTOBAHN has become the largest innovation platform of its kind in Europe.

The benefit for the industrial partner? Together they are able to generate more and even better partnerships for the mobility sector. But what happens when more than one industrial partner is interested in working with the same startup? In such a situation, the principle of the reality television singing competition “The Voice” is used — only without buzzers.

Team WayRay

Top 4: International waters

STARTUP AUTOBAHN has also taken off beyond the borders of “Swabian Silicon Valley”: By the end of 2017, the initiative had already been established in South Africa, Singapore, and Beijing. Something is definitely going on here! No effort is being spared to find and promote the most innovative visionaries in each region. In China, we have colleagues who work in a highly modern manner getting the job done — take a look:

Meanwhile, the second program round has already begun in Singapore, where the main focus is on the future of sales and fintech programs. In South Africa, Mercedes-Benz is searching for local visionaries within the framework of the “Innovation Challenge.”

TOP 5: The future continues

And on to the next round! The best startup ideas from the third round have just recently been selected — mentors have been found, brains have been racked, and diamonds have been polished. Still, the energy reserves of the young team appear to be inexhaustible. I ask myself: How do they do that?

By considering that the next round — the fourth round – begins right after Selection Day for the third round in February, and the fourth round will feature more than 50 startups! It’s going to be exciting to see what types of important innovations we will get to experience in 100 days, at the fourth Expo Day. The focus weeks — a very exciting phase – will continue until June.

The current main topics include smart materials, 3D printing, shared mobility services, the future of performance driving, robotics, automation, smart cities, supply chain automation, and last-mile logistics. Once again, the big companies will be working with the startups to further develop their innovative ideas under the motto: Being there is everything! I’ll be reporting more on this soon!


Katinka Weber is a political science student who works as a research cooperation management intern for the STARTUP AUTOBAHN project at Daimler. As a big fan of the movie “Back to the Future,” she is fascinated by innovation and unconventional ways of thinking.