What happens when you bring 60 start-ups from 30 top universities from all over Europe together in one place? What happens when all these international entrepreneurs pitch against each other in front of more than 40 investors? The answer is Stage Two, the first-ever pan-European university start-up competition.
Europe is said to lag behind on innovation potential – after today, some revision to this statement seems due. The innovation potential is there – in strong research-based start-ups. And the innovation potential has many names: AICAN, aptone, Arkadia Space, Aviant, awan, Binartis, Chefs', Clickdrive, codary, Compular, DigniSens, Dymium, Enernite, Epiclay, FemTrust, FiberTeam, fimo health, Fitsurance, Flui.Go, fungtion, Heimdallr, Higate, Hitch, Holloid, Hypstar, I-R3 Therapies, Junee, Kasparund, kula, LIDROTEC, Lignovations, Mind Reality, modattaorg, mxlar, My pots, Nanopyl, Nerit’e, Noreja, Optipack, Opus Tech, RadonControl, Reel, Remedy, RIIICO, SCALED Tech, SilverLine, Smartbreed, SPECTER Automation, SURU Together, Talto, Team Together, Tempty foods, Tex Tech, tinus, Together, Unimusic, UP Catalyst, VAN ROTHE Presence, Wi-Sort, yourbiome. If anything, this diverse innovation potential needs to be given a stage. And that’s exactly what Stage Two did.
On 29 October 2021, Europe’s top start-ups gathered on one stage at the Radialsystem in Berlin. Together with our partner HHL Leipzig School of Management, we invited the strongest start-ups from leading entrepreneurial universities to compete against each other. But why is it important to support early-stage start-ups? “Because it has to be the young people who change the environment and they are there”, Prof. Malte Brettel, Vice-Rector of Industry and Business Relations at RWTH Aachen University, explains. “We in Europe have the talent, the students who want to do something, and we have technology which too often remains unused but can and should be used – and this combination has the power to change the world.”
The idea formed in 2020, when HHL and RWTH Aachen University started implementing measures within the EXIST-Potentials programme. What the two universities share is much more than a long friendship between their respective entrepreneurial heads, Prof. Stephan Stubner (Dean of HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management) and Prof. Malte Brettel. “First, it is the internationality of our students. Both our institutions count a large proportion of students coming from all over the world. Second, we both have a long history of entrepreneurial initiatives. Our institutions bring in decades of experience in helping start-up founders develop their ideas and get traction”, Stubner explains.
And so the idea of a pan-European university start-up competition was born. But – as the name Stage Two suggests – there was a prequel to this event. In Stage One each of the participating universities selected the two best start-ups based on a set of predefined criteria. Then, in the months leading up to big day, the universities proceeded to train their nominees for the final showdown. After this first, university-internal round, the 60 selected teams traveled to Berlin to demonstrate their innovation potential at Stage Two. The grand finale of the first cross-university spin-off competition took place at the Radialsystem in Berlin as a “2G event”, allowing only guests with proof of full recovery from Covid-19 or proof of vaccination to participate on site. In addition,Stage Two’s Live Stream & Digital Experience powered by Siemens allowed start-up enthusiasts from all over the world to follow the action on stage and get a glimpse into the European start-up ecosystem.
In two semifinals, the teams put their business model and technological innovation to the test – in front of juries of Europe’s top investors: Max Meyer (Activant Capital), Olaf Jacobi (Capnamic), Thomas Lueke (Cherry Ventures), Antonius Salis (Redalpine), Kim Tram (DvH Ventures), Andreas Riegler (APEX), Jan Borgstädt (Join Capital), Jessica Lieber (Next47), José Guerreiro de Soussa (Armilar Ventures), Julian Woköck (Lakestar), Alexander Kölpin (seed+speed), Claude Ritter (Cavalry), Federico Wengi (Paua Ventures), Laura Egg (AAIA), Nicolas von Cappeln (STS Ventures), Benjamin Erhart (UVC), Dr. Elisabeth Schrey (btov), Florian Reichert (Picus Capital), Jasmin Güngör (IECT), and Marc Seitz (Intel Ignite).
Each semifinal was subdivided into two groups: a Business Innovation stream, comprising teams with innovative business models, new products as well as new approaches to problems in industry who make use of existing and emerging technologies and challenge the dominant logic in their industry, and a Tech Innovation stream, consisting of teams with an in-house developed technology, often originating from cutting-edge research, which is new to the market and serves as the main driver of value creation. Moderators Laura Lewandowski, Sven Greulich and lead moderator Dan Ram welcomed each team on stage for a 2-minute pitch before giving the word to the jury for another 3-minute Q&A session per team.
While the juries retired backstage in order to evaluate the start-ups and their performances, virtual participants had the chance to gain even deeper insights into the European start-up ecosystem in two Online Exclusives moderated by Dan Ram. In the Siemens Xcelerator for Startups Panel Discussion, Audrey Villareal (Xcelerator for Startups Manager, Siemens), Sebastian Dreßen (R&D Strategy Manager, Siemens AG), and Moritz Maier (Co-founder, ELISE GmbH) illustrated the importance of digital transformation for the start-up ecosystem and beyond. The second session, a McKinsey & Company Keynote with Tobias Henz (Associate Partner McKinsey & Company) focused on the topic Entrepreneurship Zeitgeist 2030 – Making start-ups Germany’s next economic powerhouse.
In addition to the scheduled programme, the on-site guests had the chance to visit corporate expo with interactive booths and get in touch with invited representatives from Siemens, Icaros, Orrick, Microsoft, and mute-labs. For the virtual participants, Siemens and Scasa recreated the in-person atmosphere in a virtual 3D exhibition featuring booths of all participating start-ups.
Of the 60 start-ups competing in the semifinals, only 8 made it into the finals. From the Business Innovation stream, Fimo Health, Codary, SURU together, and Aviant took part; Binartis, mlxar, Compular and NanoPyl represented the Tech Innovation stream. In the finals, the teams started from zero, presenting their 2-minute pitch to an all new jury, consisting of Marie-Helene Ametsreiter (Speedinvest), Jasper Masemann (HV Capital), Johannes Triebs (Earlybird), Katharina Wilhelm (Index Ventures), and Konstantin Zedelius (Atomico). This time, the start-ups had to make their business model stand up to the jury’s critical questions in 5-minute Q&A sessions.
After the last pitch and Q&A session, the jury retreated to decide on the winners of the various awards and prizes. In the meantime, Kirstin MacLeod (AirBnB) engaged in a lively discussion with Dr. Marianne Janik (Microsoft), Dr. Peter Körte (Siemens), Markus Berger-de León (McKinsey) and Michael Reinartz (Vodafone) on how corporates and start-ups can collaborate to create an ecosystem for entrepreneurs in Europe. While the speakers presented different approaches and shared best practices on how to collaborate effectively, the industry experts agreed that in any case, collaboration is a win-win situation – for the start-ups, the corporates, and for the ecosystem as a whole.
The official part of the event finally ended with the announcement of the winners. The awards and prizes included investment, cash, accelerator and skilling prizes worth more than 1 million euros in total. The winning teams are:
Best Tech Innovation by HBSAA Germany, 200k: Compular (Chalmers)
Best Business Innovation by STS Ventures, 200k: Aviant (NTNU)
Deep Tech Award by HTGF, 600k: RIIICO (RWTH)
Digital Dream Team Award by Peak Capital, 150k: Fimo Health (University of Cologne)
Female Founder Award, 10k: Junee (LBS)
Sustainability Award, 10k: Lignovations (TU Vienna)
Humane AI Award, 5k: AICAN (HHL)
Digital Audience Award, 5k: Enernite (NOVA)
Wildcard Digital Top 50: RIIICO (RWTH)
Superangel Growth Program: Compular (Chalmers)
UVC B2B Sales Bootcamp: Enernite (NTNU)
Join Capital Fast Track IC Meeting: Compular (Chalmers)
Cavalry Sparring Sessions: Aviant (NTNU)
Earlybird Partner Coaching: Compular (Chalmers)
xdeck batch #5: epiclay (WU Vienna)
Smart Chiefs Storytelling: SCALED (Imperial College London)
Schranner Negotiator Training: Together (RSM)
German Entrepreneurship Deep Dive Package: Codary (TU Berlin), mxlar (INiTS Vienna)
Microsoft Executive Mentoring: Compular (Chalmers), Aviant (NTNU)
McKinsey Problem Solving Workshop: Compular (Chalmers), Aviant (NTNU)
Congratulations to the winners on your outstanding achievement and to all participating teams who made it to Berlin! We are particularly proud to see our RWTH start-up RIIICO take home the largest investment prize by HTGF and looking forward to following your next steps. At the same time, we are delighted to see our second RWTH start-up, the Mexican-German team of Nerit’e, come together in Berlin and take advantage of this unique event in terms of networking, teambuilding and advancing their business.
Whether investor, corporate, winning team or not, all attendees had the chance to celebrate their participation in the premiere of Stage Two and their contribution to strengthening the European start-up ecosystem at the after-show party with DJs Dohus, Maddi, Max.
Prof. Stephan Stubner and Prof. Malte Brettel are happy with the outcome of Stage Two. “The whole idea of bringing together teams from different universities of inspiring young students and researchers and creatives to not only think about ideas but really trying to bring them to life, is an important milestone”, Stubner concludes. But there is even more potential to be uncovered: “We are already looking forward to next year. We had 30 participating universities this year and there are still many more universities out there, so we are happy to make this even bigger in 2022,” Malte Brettel adds.
Thank you to all start-ups, universities, investors, corporates and everyone involved in making Stage Two a success! Your energy and commitment to the goal of a strong European start-up ecsosystem was palpable throughout the entire event.
Special thanks to our award sponsors for supporting the European start-up scene! Let’s keep investing in the future of the tech and innovation location Europe!
Last, but not least, thanks to our co-organisers and co-hosts at HHL for making this amazing event happen!
See you at Stage Two 2022!