ZF Friedrichshafen AG is drawing new inspiration from the digital start-up scene by inviting 57 international start-ups to the first ZF Pitch Night in Friedrichshafen. Last Friday, it turned its new headquarter building, the ZF Forum, into a marketplace for start-up ideas, allowing participants to present their approaches, business models and projects. Young experts gave ‘elevator pitches’ on their creative ideas in fields including autonomous driving, connectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics and more. Those with the most promising solutions were granted a digital pilot project at ZF or an exclusive meet and greet with company management.
“ZF Pitch Night is a chance for us to bring the emerging, creative and international digital start-up community ‘in-house’,” explains Dr. Malgorzata Wiklinska, head of Digital Ecosystems & Strategic Partnerships, who had the idea for the event. “It brings us closer to innovation-driven companies that have the capability to provide crucial inspiration in important fields of networked mobility. The passion and power of the teams at the launch seriously impressed us.”
A total of 57 companies from 15 countries turned the new ZF Forum into an international marketplace for disruptive trends and innovative ideas. The young entrepreneurs had the opportunity to present their business models and products, network with each other and exchange ideas with ZF decision makers.
In a series of pitches, the fledgling companies were invited to put forward their ideas on specific problems in day-to-day business or their solutions in the categories of ‘Artificial Intelligence & Robotics’ as well as ‘Autonomous Driving and Connectivity’. In just three or four minutes, they had to pitch their products convincingly to the ZF jury – CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer, Chief Digital Officer Mamatha Chamarthi and Managing Director of Zukunft Ventures GmbH Torsten Gollewski. Participants included connectivity specialist Savari (USA) and British firm FiveAI which has carved out a niche in the manufacture of artificial intelligence-based software for autonomous vehicles.
At the ‘New Mobility Bash’, the two North American experts on new mobility concepts, Local Motors and Auro, presented their self-driving electric shuttles for urban transportation. In his closing speech, Uwe Horstmann, founding partner of the international venture capital firm Project A, talked about how entrepreneurs excel and improve their performance and how start-ups can benefit from cooperating with investors.
“Events like ZF Pitch Night boost our open collaboration with the start-up community and can also have a positive impact on our corporate culture,” says Mamatha Chamarthi. “We take digitalization seriously. We want to design our development processes in a way that allows us to tap into new stimuli from the digital start-up scene more quickly and create value added for our customers by upgrading our products and services.”
ZF Pitch Night is part of ZF’s global digitalization strategy. In February, the company announced its collaboration with digital start-up accelerator Plug and Play as well as a partnership with the growing innovation platform “Startup Autobahn”.