What do most startups have in common? Most startups have in common a unique idea and limited resources to develop it. They usually look for investors or partners through crowdsourcing to initiate the funding of their product or services. However, startup companies can also work with Accelerators which support them through education, mentorship and financing culminating in a graduation or demo day. Plug and Play is one of them.

We interviewed Charles Vaillant, Group Vice President Technology and a digitalization specialist at MANN+HUMMEL about the current collaboration between MANN+HUMMEL and Plug and Play.

Mr. Vaillant, how did the cooperation between MANN+HUMMEL and “Plug and Play” begin?

Charles Vaillant: We were approached by Plug and Play last September. They provided comprehensive and detailed information on their activities in Stuttgart and Silicon Valley. Since we were already considering the idea of cooperating with startups in Silicon Valley; we were very pleased with their concept and we decided to join their program. In the beginning, our main focus was in startups focused on Internet of Things (IoT) however, because we are in the automotive industry we expanded to innovators dedicated to mobility, supply chain and material.

Plug and Play and MANN+HUMMEL

What is their concept?

Charles Vaillant: Plug and Play is an Accelerator. They host and help startups grow. If you ask Plug and Play about their vision, they would state that it is to help startups achieve their plans. Even though all startups are not successful, they really try to enable their path. Plug and Play is very well connected in the business world so they bring together startups and companies/investors. Another advantage of partnering with Plug and Play is that in addition to their offices in Silicon Valley, they have an international footprint with offices in Paris, Stuttgart, Berlin, Singapore, and Tokyo.

How do the startups get accepted into the program?

Charles Vaillant: In order to be selected into Plug and Play you have to be appropriately qualified. First, they identify about a thousand targeted startups in specific verticals, for instance IoT. Then Plug and Play selects the top one hundred based on certain criteria. The information on these companies is shared with the corporate partners, like MANN+HUMMEL, which decide on forty that will present on demo day.  Every pitch takes about three minutes, which is a very short time to get an impression on the startups. From the forty companies the corporate partners pick twenty that will get accepted in the program for three or four months.

What happens next?

Charles Vaillant: The selected startups get to move into the Plug and Play building, where they are mentored. The startups work from there and have access to legal, finance, banking, business and marketing advice. Plug and Play creates an ecosystem for the startups. At the end of the period, the startups have to be at a level where they can take their next step. For example, they are ready to start their production or start selling their products and will be looking for investors. At the end of the three or four month period there is an “Expo” where these startups present in front of a large crowd. However, there are alternative ways to get in contact with interesting startups.

What are the alternative ways?

Charles Vaillant: Before going to Plug and Play, they send me proposals of startups they think MANN+HUMMEL might be interested based on information we have provided to them. They know we are interested in the filtration sector in general, but they also look for startups from the material and the IoT vertical. I share the list provided by Plug and Play with some of my colleagues in Germany and/or Asia for feedback. I collect their feedback and make a ranking that I send back to Plug and Play. They ask the startups if they are available to meet me during my visit and they organize a Deal Flow. When we meet, every startup gets exactly 30 minutes to present their idea in more detail. Every time I go to the Deal Flow, I see at least one or two startups that are of interest to MANN+HUMMEL. From there on we decide, together with the startups, how the future partnership would look like.

Startups and MANN+HUMMEL

So what is in it for MANN+HUMMEL? What advantages do we have?

Charles Vaillant: The advantages are mainly two things. One is clearly the access to technology or to access new business models. We have the possibility to learn about technology, ideas, products and materials that we have never seen before which can improve our own outcome. Second, is being exposed and having an organization that interacts with startups and experiences a completely different way of working. As you know, startups are very agile and fast because they are simple in their organization, so you can discover different ways of working. This is a huge benefit because it enriches the thinking of most of our colleagues.

Mr. Vaillant, MANN+HUMMEL received an innovation award from Plug and Play. How come?

Charles Vaillant: The innovation award we received was because Plug and Play was really impressed with the work of MANN+HUMMEL. I think many corporate partners just sign up, they go to the selection day and they vote, so the startups get accepted into the program, but it is not easy to really collaborate and start projects with the startups.  Plug and Play was impressed with is our speed, commitment and activity, basically “we walked the talk” and continuously look for innovation and growth.