Forum UnternehmerTUM 2019 © Copyright: UnternehmerTUM / Bert Willer
27 February 2019

At Forum UnternehmerTUM, Europe’s leading centre for innovation and foundation presented itself as a strong network for tech start-ups. Professional support and inspiring surroundings make it possible for even a “unicorn” to grow up here. The optimistic atmosphere which prevailed at the annual international technology conference and at the networks in the BMW Welt that followed was only darkened in one regard: in Europe there is not sufficient venture capital available for investment.

Of the 850 participants, Poh Kam Wong, entrepreneurship professor at the NUS Business School in Singapore, travelled the furthest distance to attend. He was happy to make the trip because he is convinced that networking entrepreneurs internationally is an important factor for success. That’s why he sends his students to start-ups located in technological hotspots worldwide, to Silicon Valley, New York, Shanghai – and Munich.

For Professor Thomas Hofmann, the designated President of TU München, this is precisely the right way to go: “We need to set up an ecosystem internationally in which young entrepreneurs can move freely and learn from one another,” said Thomas Hofmann at the opening event of the Forum.

And he emphasised that Munich has just as much to offer founders as Silicon Valley: outstanding universities, big DAX corporations and an inspiring environment.

The first unicorn from Munich

How inspiring Munich is shown by the success of Celonis, the first spin-off of TUM that can join the ranks of globally successful “unicorns”. Celonis offers enterprises solutions for analysing business processes and designing them more efficiently. SAP was an important partner on the road to success, as Bastian Nominacher, co-founder of Celonis, and Christian Klein from SAP reported. “I understood two minutes into the pitch which problem was to be solved with which technology,” said Christian Klein, explaining one of the reasons why he is convinced about Celonis. He thus put in a nutshell what is most important to a founder: passion and the power of persuasion.

Or as Helmut Schönenberger, CEO of UnternehmerTUM, said at the opening round: “People are the secret to success, people who think entrepreneurially, who enthusiastically back new solutions.”

We need 50 billion a year

But in addition to passion, every founder needs a pile of money. Experts discussed the state of start-up financing in Europe at one of four parallel sessions. Klaus Hommels, founder of the investment company Lakestar, made a passionate appeal to the auditorium that it is crucial to invest considerably more in the founder ecosystem in Europe than has previously been the case. “If European enterprises disappear from DAX, we need new companies to take their place in order to secure the wealth of our children. 200 or 300 million dollars a year won’t do the trick, we need 50 billion.”

Hauke Stars, member of the executive board of the Deutsche Börse, observes that investors are becoming more and more interested in technological start-ups. She also reported on the successful venture network with UnternehmerTUM: “We bring investors and start-ups together and have already listed seven enterprises from the network on the stock exchange.”

Artificial intelligence and ethics
But the Forum wasn’t just about money and success. There was also discussion about what the world of tomorrow should look like. How will we work? What will the cities of tomorrow look like? How will digitalisation change out lives?

Professor Alexander Filipovic, ethicist and theologian, from the Hochschule für Philosophie München, illustrated which societal challenges artificial intelligence will usher in. He is a member of the committee of enquiry of the German Bundestag on artificial intelligence (AI). “The questions raised as a result of AI are as manifold as the various applications,” said Filipovic.

Whose fault is it when an autonomous system makes a mistake? Do we want robots taking care of our elderly? How can we develop AI systems which have internalised our values? “Experts inside and outside of the committee of enquiry are currently looking for answers to many questions of this kind,” explained Alexander Filipovic. “I think that the voice of ethicists is essential here.”

Kai Schmidhuber, Chief Digital Director of L’Oréal Deutschland, provided insight into how digitalisation is changing traditional trading. Thomas Bachem, founder and chancellor of CODE University in Berlin, outlined how the university of the future may look. And the pitches of successful start-ups such as deepC, shyftplan, Innoactive, blik, Isar Aerospace and TWAICE imparted a sense of the business ideas for strong growth which are supported by the UnternehmerTUM network.

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