Prof. Dr. Heike Hölzner, HTW Berlin

Category: Future heads

© Prof. Dr. Heike Hölzner

© Prof. Dr. Heike Hölzner

© Prof. Dr. Heike Hölzner

The Deep Tech Award is presented on April 3, 2019, for the fourth time. The award goes to solutions that are well proven and focussed on application as well as to products that are based on soft- and/or hardware being highly innovative and showing a great potential for the future.

Professor Dr. Heike Hölzner, Professor for Entrepreneurship and Medium-sized Businesses at the HTW Berlin and member of the jury, discloses in an interview with Project Future, what kind of prerequisites applicants will have to provide, why this Award is of such an importance to Berlin, and how well the female founder scene is set up.

The Deep Tech Award will be presented in April for the fourth time. The application period has ended. Why is this award of such an importance to the business location of Berlin?

Silicon Valley has won the first half-time of digitalisation - namely the consumer sector. However, European start-ups are catching up on a large scale in the second half of digitalisation that has only just begun and which is entering deep into processes of industrial manufacturing. Experts presume that Europe, and here especially Germany, can become the pioneer of a technological revolution right up to Industry 4.0. The key to success is “Deep Tech”. Already today, as many start-ups are established in the Deep Tech sector in Europe, as in the U.S.

But in comparison these enterprises draw little attention. This is mainly due to the inherent properties of Deep Tech: Deep Tech is mostly used in applications around the B2B sector; if Deep Tech innovations are applied within the end user section, they are only an indirect part of a product. And this is the reason why it is very difficult to convey the added value of a Deep-Tech innovation to the end user.

Start-ups have established themselves more and more as a new eco-system for innovations. Will the Deep Tech Award be the reason why investors focus increasingly more on these enterprises?

This is at least one of the objectives of this Award. A rather lively hardware- and Deep-Tech founder scene has established itself in Berlin over the past few years. This is a great development and has led to the situation that increasingly more company founders specialised on Deep-Tech and that also several venture capital companies have sprung up. However, investing in Deep Tech compared to digital business models is rather difficult for investors. Not only does one need more financial means during the early, high risk phase, but also the growth is not viral and requires huge investments. Such capital is still hard to come by on the German market. And that is really a shame as I think that it would be available to the medium-sized business.

You had 70 applicants this year - but why are applications from women still underrepresented? The balance within the jury seems to be correct…

Within the founder scene in Germany, women are still underrepresented. The current DSM (German Startup Monitor) has established that the share of female founders in the tech start-ups in Germany is 15.1 per cent. There are many well-known reasons, amongst others non-existing networks and more difficult access to capital. With regard the Deep Tech subject this effect is made worse by the fact that such innovations often take place in the area of universities and there in the research sector, where proportionally fewer women are involved. The fact that fewer women than men have applied has nothing to do with the attraction of the award for women. It is a structural problem.

The Deep Stars 2017 – those were - amongst others - VIRTENIO GmbH and MatchX GmbH – what made the winners stand out from the crowd?

As I was not part of the jury last year, I cannot say much about the result. But if you look at the two companies from the outside it is apparent that they are both dealing with highly innovative solutions from the IoT sector that connects software with hardware offering a broad field of application. This is indeed a special feature of Deep Tech. As the innovation has not been developed for a special product - it can more often than not be used as a solution in a number of applications. Personally, I find MatchX particularly exciting as they have developed a solution with the assistance of the blockchain technology. I am convinced that on the basis of this technology we will see many more Deep Tech founders in the coming years.

In your function as scientific Head at the Sirius Minds Institute you advise High-Tech-founders. What are your main points?

I would not call it as giving advice but describe it as coaching. This is very important as in the long run, entrepreneurs will only be successful with innovations and decisions that they have developed and made themselves. We are not allowed in any way to take that away from them. But we can support them, let them have a neutral view from the outside and ask critical questions that encourage their own thinking. We concentrate on the subjects of developing business models and team development. The subject of team development is often underestimated and is nevertheless part of the top 3 reasons, why start-ups fail.

It is not without reasons that when looking back so many start-ups mention that they should have talked about the subject of team development much earlier - also with external partners. In the sector of business model development we work with innovative instruments that help to understand customers and the market much better and test own ideas and assumptions early.

And finally: Could you please complete the following sentence: “Berlin is …”

“…on its way to become a hotspot for Deep Tech. The most varied sub-scenes, such as around the Blockchain, develop and - provided they are sufficiently promoted and supported - will contribute significantly to the fact that Germany is not left behind by the U.S. in the second wave of digitalisation.”