STARTUP AUTOBAHN: How cooperations with startups can help us to move forward

Mike Massimino (a professor at Columbia University and former NASA astronaut), Armin Pohl (CEO of Mackevision), and Cem Özdemir (a politician from the German Greens party) — what may sound like a list of guests for the German talk-show host Markus Lanz in his better days is, in fact, the illustrious group of speakers on the stage of the STARTUP AUTOBAHN.

STARTUP AUTOBAHN already launched in 2016

I’m attending the STARTUP AUTOBAHN in Stuttgart’s Wagenhallen venue. I’m surrounded by an international audience, composed of people from a wide variety of innovative sectors. Today is Expo-Day, on which the various project teams present the results of around three months of joint project work with the business partners. The press release also mentions a change in leadership for the next program. Incidentally, the core topic of the 7th Program is sustainability, making it a perfect fit for the Daimler Group’s Ambition2039 corporate strategy.

For several years now, I’ve been following this innovation platform, which was launched in 2016, with great interest. For the past few years I’ve also been asking myself what output STARTUP AUTOBAHN has actually produced. How does any of it benefit Daimler AG? Are there any other notable results apart from the best-known example, what3words?

Six programs: 6,000 applications, 150 pilot tests, 12 implementations

The innovation platform’s director, Philipp Gneiting, stands next to me and smiles confidently. He says that a total of 20 startup partnerships were formed alone for this program, which is the sixth to date. The figures speak for themselves: More than 6,000 startups from all over the world applied for the last six programs and were examined by our scouts. Pilot tests were then conducted with 150 young companies, and more than a dozen of these were subsequently also implemented.

Here are a few examples:

  • Evopark: a parking card that enables the holder to enter and exit parking garages and that is also used for payment. The card is already available for Mercedes-Benz customers.
  • Otonomo: a marketplace for vehicle data that aims to monetize this information.
  • High Mobility: Daimler is one of the first OEMs to implement extended vehicle and neutral server concepts, which enable external parties to access the data.
  • Ui Path: automatic handling of standard processes in accounting. Robotic process automation.
  • Lana Labs: process mining as a digital tool for continuous process optimization.
    Use case: optimization of idle times in the line organization and during reworking. Optimization of processing times.
  • More.Al: a content provider for voice-based smart searches in WeChatBeing implemented in China.
  • Waterrock Technologies: an autonomously mobile warehousing system that enables work to be conducted in a more time- and space-saving manner. Implemented in China.

Cooperation with the Daimler departments is crucial

My likeable colleague Gneiting reveals what the real secret for success is: “STARTUP AUTOBAHN can only be as successful as the cooperation of the specialist units with the various project teams.” That’s good news because it shows that many units at Daimler obviously have a culture that makes it possible for them to collaborate with startups. This may sound surprising because big companies have been known to have reservations about ideas coming from outside their organizations.

However, the colleagues from the Daimler specialist units also emphasize that a test doesn’t necessarily have to be implemented for it to be a success. “You always learn something,” says one of the Daimler colleagues at the event.

As the day begins to draw to a close, I get to listen to Mike Massimino one last time. @Astro_Mike talks about the values that you need in order to achieve “moonshots.” He specifically mentions cooperation, diversity, innovative spirit, and leadership skills as prerequisites for reaching the moon. These are metaphors and virtues that our Group also commits itself to…

This is what he told us in a brief interview:

Three questions for Mike Massimino
Mike Massimino, a former NASA astronaut and now a professor at Columbia University, took part in STARTUP AUTOBAHN at Stuttgart’s Wagenhallen. He held an impressive speech about getting going, trying out new things, and taking off. Massimino grew up on Long Island and lived in Germany for six months when he worked for the German Aerospace Center (DLR). He now met up with the people of Mercedes and also took the opportunity to drive the EQC, of course (combined electricity consumption: 20.8 – 19.7 kWh / 100 km; combined CO2 emissions: 0 g / km)

What do STARTUP AUTOBAHN and The Big Bang Theory TV show have in common?
Both of them appeal to a young audience and they both involve a community of technology-minded scientists who are also a group of friends. At STARTUP AUTOBAHN, technology-oriented people are literally helping to change the world. They share their knowledge and experiences with one another and establish long-term relationships that help them get ahead.

What do you, as a professor of mechanical engineering, think about flying cars?
I think we’ll make them someday. It might be great if we used the skies and rose up into another dimension. Although I’m familiar with the concept, I think we need a few smart people and several more years before it can be sensibly implemented.

What does sustainable mobility mean to you?
It means that we move about on this planet in such a way that we can preserve it. I’ve been in outer space and seen that there’s nowhere else where we could survive. One thing that might help protect our environment in the long-term is electric mobility. The EQC is a good example of this. It produces no emissions while at the same time offering a lot of ride comfort and driving pleasure. It accelerates immediately and directly — almost like the controls of a robot in the space shuttle ;-). Moreover, the vehicle is very elegant. It’s like a spaceship inside — cool and comfortable. It’s a good way to get to know our planet while also looking cool.

The Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador is likeable, stirring, and authentic. The 1.2 million followers on Twitter have to come from somewhere, after all.
Fittingly enough, he’s also been a guest star several times on The Big Bang Theory.

But does he know Markus Lanz?

STARTUP AUTOBAHN — a success story

Launched in Stuttgart, successful worldwide: STARTUP AUTOBAHN was launched at the initiative of Daimler AG, which, in 2016, wanted to create an innovative connection between the world of startups and that of the well-established big companies from manufacturing sectors such as the automotive industry. Daimler founded the innovation platform STARTUP AUTOBAHN in cooperation with the startup accelerator Plug and Play, the University of Stuttgart, and the research factory ARENA2036. Each year, Daimler organizes two 100-day pilot programs, which conclude with an EXPO DAY.


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He is an editor in communication and "loves" self-descriptions.