Alex Farcet, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Startupbootcamp, talks about the Berlin accelerator’s new focus on Smart Transportation and Energy
Startupbootcamp Berlin has announced to become a program for Smart Transportation and Energy startups. Why have you decided to give this focus to the formerly generic program?“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 andBosch, are now joined by Cisco, HERE, EnBW and Castrol, all of whom have a keen interest in smart transportation and energy.”
And how about your personal preferences?“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, who the connection of IT with the physical world is enabling solutions to problems we thought were intractable. There are also a lot of low hanging fruit, for example few people know that 40% of gas consumed by cars in cities is spent looking for parking. That’s essentially a data problem.”
You mentioned your new sponsors. How did you manage to get these on board?“The reality is that when you have a couple of global brands backing you, like we had with Mercedes Benz and Bosch, then they become great endorsers of the program and it becomes easier to convince other brands to join.. What we also heard explicitly is that these companies are looking to work with one another, not just with Startupbootcamp’s team and that they’re super interested in the smart transportation and energy theme, they want to see where the edge of innovation is in this field.”
Traditionally, you have very young teams in your programs that are early in their development. Will it be easy for them to be taken seriously by global players?“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 organization 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.”
How do hotels react to yet another service that focuses on special deals?
So your role is to connect startups and corporates?“Well, we’re more than just a matchmaker. We have a format, a process and an environment which facilitatesfor the two sides to engage with each other, and I think that’s attractive.”
How does this change customer relationships?“You initially have to ask yourself: What does the customer want? And how can I make a differentiated, helpful offer? If I know this, how do I present specific offers? This calls for intelligent communication when presenting the specific offers and setting up customer service. New technologies allow for this completely new approach to tourism.”
How easy is it to find the teams that are specializing on Smart Transportation and Energy?“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 proactive. 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.”
So the focus will remain for more than a year?“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.”
You announced this Smart Transportation and Energy program to be held in Berlin, but also San Francisco, bridging the two continents. How will it work?“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 organizing a week 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.”
Transportation and Energy touch public interests. Are you in touch with administrations and public stakeholders?“We understand that this going to be important. A lot of these topics are regulated. Interestingly, I have 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.”
co-founder & Managing Director, Startupbootcamp
Alex Farcet is the co-founder and Managing Director of Startupbootcamp. While working in different positions for the German concern DHL, he gathered experience in business development, process improvement and developed outstanding leadership skills. After a long first “career run” Farcet decided to stop working in big “corporate” companies and started doing what he really loves: “being an entrepreneur and working with startups”. He soon became one of the most respected business angels and facilitators for young startups which had drawn his interest. Since December of 2009 Farcet is working for the European accelerator program Startupbootcamp in Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin and Haifa. He co-founded the Copenhagen program and is now running the show in Berlin.