Alex Farcet on Startupbootcamp Berlin’s New Focus on Transport and Energy

By Silicon Allee |

This is an edited version of an interview which first appeared on the Venista Ventures website.

Given the preponderance of accelerators in Berlin, it’s perhaps not too surprising that some will choose to specialise more than they do now. One such example is Startupbootcamp Berlin, which has announced a focus on the smart transportation and energy space – and will actively look for participants both in Europe and further afield, according to co-founder and managing director Alex Farcet.

Q: Startupbootcamp Berlin has announced that it will become a program for smart transportation and energy startups. Why have you decided to give this focus to the formerly generic program?

ALEX FARCET: There are a number of reasons. Firstly, we think the timing is right, the space is heating up. We’re inspired by Elon Musk and the massive funding rounds for Uber and Lyft as well as the Amazon drones, Matternet and the explosion of peer-to-peer and crowdsourced solutions for urban mobility and energy challenges. The second reason is more opportunistic. Last year’s partners, Mercedes Benz and Bosch, are now joined by Cisco, HERE, EnBW and Castrol, all of whom have a keen interest in smart transportation and energy.

Q: And how about your personal preferences?

AF: Of course my personal background is also a factor; I used to work for DHL so I know about the huge potential that technology has for smart transportation. And I am fascinated by the ways we can combine the real world of mobility and data, and how the connection of IT with the physical world is enabling solutions to problems we thought were intractable. There is also a lot of low-hanging fruit. For example few people know that 40 percent of gas consumed by cars in cities is spent looking for parking. That’s essentially a data problem.

Q: You mentioned your new sponsors – you accept teams into your programs that are very early in their development. Will it be easy for them to be taken seriously by such global players?

AF: That is never a problem. The issue is more if the big companies are equipped to deal with these small startups. If corporates don’t have their own venture fund or their organisation to deal with startups, they are often unable to handle the input. They would meet the startups and say, ‘Nice to meet you. Let us know when you’re big.’ But what I see is that the larger companies know that if they don’t engage early, they miss out. So that’s why they work with us, because we know how to work with startups and how to create optimal conditions for them to engage with each other.

Q: Is your role to connect startups and corporates?

AF: Well, we’re more than just a matchmaker. We have a format, a process and an environment which facilitates for the two sides to engage with each other, and I think that’s attractive.

Q: How easy is it to find the teams that are specialising in smart transportation and energy?

AF: We’re definitely having to work harder than with a generic program. Given the narrowed focus we know we’re going to have fewer applicants. Our approach is much more pro-active. I’ve put together what I call a SWAT team of startup hunters who have done a lot of research on databases, events, tech trends, schools and all sorts of different sources. And so we now have a list of 500 potential participants whom we’re contacting. We’re not waiting for people to randomly apply. We see that there are a lot more teams in the US than in Europe working in this area. But I’m sure it’s good for us to start this focused program in Europe, certainly in the long run because we’ll be known as pioneers for startups touching these topics that shape the future of our societies.

Q: So this focus will remain in place for more than a year?

AF: Yes, definitely, that is the plan. The impact of smart transportation and energy is so important that we want to play an active part here in the long term.

Q: You announced that this smart transportation and energy program will not only be held in Berlin, but also San Francisco, bridging the two continents. How will it work?

AF: The programs will operate at alternating times. Berlin will run in the fall, and San Francisco will be in the spring. The idea is to shift from one to the other. I’m guessing that some of the European teams will be very keen to hit the US market. So instead of organising a week’s visit in the Valley, we can say, ‘We have desks for you; we have a mentor network; you can benefit from this even if your program is over.’

And vice versa from the US side – there are some startups that want to be global from day one and maybe have their development team in Berlin, where it’s more affordable. And Europe is more advanced in some areas; look at electrical vehicles or Berlin as a car-sharing hotspot. And, finally, the mentors are very excited about the connection across these two booming ecosystems.

Q: Topics like transportation and energy touch on public interest. Are you in touch with authorities and public stakeholders?

AF: We understand that this going to be important. A lot of these topics are regulated. Interestingly, I have [had a] better response on the US side, where we’re already in touch with the City of San Francisco, the Ford Foundation, the Vice Mayor of Chicago responsible for transportation. But it will happen here, too. Look at Hamburg, that wants to be a green city by 2020. So I definitely want to connect to the people behind that project.