ATEC X 2020: “Exploring Tomorrow. Today.”
A review of 10 years of ATEC and a look into the future
What do founder, investor, author and TV personality Frank Thelen, triathlete, Olympic champion and Ironman worldrecord holder Jan Frodeno, and NRW Minister for Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitisation and Energy Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart have in common? They were all speakers at ATEC X. As different as their activities may be, they are all similar in their motives and goals: They all push boundaries, driven by their personal visions for the future. No wonder, then, that they all contributed their very own ideas and experiences to this year's theme “Exploring Tomorrow. Today.”
Deep Tech Entrepreneurship Conference with over 2,200 guests
Under the banner of new approaches and innovative solutions, this year's conference marking the 10th anniversary of ATEC was held completely online for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic – and it was more successful than ever. It was precisely this digital format that made ATEC X a conference with global reach: More than 2,200 participants from all over the world attended the conference. People from more than 70 countries, including Israel, Japan, South Africa, India, Egypt, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, the U.S. and from numerous regions in Europe registered for the virtual exchange. In addition, about 100 start-ups met with more than 30 of Europe's top investors such as Freigeist, HV Capital, Lakestar or Project A Ventures. The enormous interest from all over the world and the thoroughly positive response to the online conference not only prove the high attractiveness of Aachen's deep tech scene, but also once again illustrate the enormous potential of Aachen as a start-up location.
Deep Tech @ RWTH Aachen
So, what exactly is the goal for the start-up location Aachen?
“We have a vision and we have a great opportunity right now. We have a lot of small incubators in Aachen in various tech fields like production, industry 4.0, med tech, and other technology areas. What we are going to do is to combine them into a programme, add other ingredients like the more than 400 companies on campus and thus build the largest space for deep tech incubation in Europe. This is our path – and we’re on the way, if you look at what happens here with ATEC and the more than 2.200 participants in the conference”,
said Prof. Dr. Malte Brettel, Vice Rector of the RWTH for Economics and Industry and Managing Director of RWTH Innovation GmbH, who opened ATEC X. This development is to be strategically driven forward in the coming years in order to establish Aachen as a hot-spot for tech start-ups:
“If you want to combine tech expertise with talent with investors and with market access Aachen is going to be the place. This may be the beginning of the tech valley here!”
More than just a conference
What is essential for a good entrepreneurship conference? A varied, interactive program. After the opening speech, Dan Ram took over the moderation and led through two days of exciting activities in an informative and entertaining way. The participants themselves were actively involved in various formats. In addition to the traditional start-up/investor speed-dating, the startup_tournament.nrw Pitch Battle was relaunched, building on the success of the previous year. In the final round, tech start-ups had the opportunity to pitch their start-up idea in front of a top jury of representatives of successful venture capitalists. In the first round, the international audience at ATEC X decided which of the 16 teams would receive this opportunity by means of online voting. Muddy Machines from London (1st place) and FibreCoat from Aachen (2nd place) won the final of this year's Pitch Battle. Another new feature this year was the TechForFuture Challenge, where several teams had a week's time to design a viable business model to secure the local retail trade through digital market concepts. This task was best solved by the team from Tribal of the student consultancy aixsolution e.V., who developed a plug-in for websites to find local retailers of online products. The lively programme at ATEC X was complemented by digital gym sessions, a virtual party and a digital networking event – after all, after all, even in times of a pandemic, movement and social contact should not be neglected.
Presentation of the Spin-off Award 2020
The winners of the Pitch Battle and TechForFutureChallenge were not the only winners at ATEC X. Dan Ram also announced the winning teams of this year's Spin-off Award of RWTH Aachen University. A total of nine teams can now officially present themselves as spin-offs of RWTH Aachen University: aiXbrain GmbH, Carbon Minds GmbH, FibreCoat GmbH, IconPro GmbH, Incoretex GmbH, PerAGraft GmbH, Terranigma Solutions GmbH, TorqueWerk GmbH and upBUS UG (limited liability). More about this year's Spin-off Award winners here.
Political vision for the start-up location Aachen
The two-day conference concluded with a panel discussion on the future of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia as a start-up location. Together with Prof. Andreas Pinkwart, Minister of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitisation and Energy of North Rhine-Westphalia, Matthias Notz from the German Accelerator and Oliver Grün from digitalHUB Aachen e.V. answered questions from Nils Eiteneyer (xdeck) on the start-up landscape in NRW. The focus was on unique selling points, ambitions and necessary actions for the development of the start-up and innovation location NRW. Matthias Notz summarised in four points what makes NRW so special compared to other start-up locations: The size of the state of NRW, the financial support provided by the state government, the public representation by politics and the collaborative ecosystem. According to Minister Pinkwart, it is therefore the task and goal of politics to use these advantages and to combine the diverse strengths of the state. Only through close cooperation between the state's many forces can the fast-growing, economically strong West be developed into a nationally and internationally renowned center for start-ups and innovation alongside already established locations.
Frank Thelen and Jan Frodeno appeal to young founders
This view coincides with the claims of Frank Thelen, who called on Germany and Europe as a whole to become a strong third voice alongside the USA and China in order to find solutions together. In view of the current developments in Germany and also in Aachen, Thelen sees the chances of success as quite positive:
“We have outstanding universities, but we don’t have the programmes to make these great research ideas become companies because we don’t have the mentors and the DNA that makes us want to build big companies. But we need to learn it. It’s a complex system. What we have to do is go step by step and we’re on a good track, universities are picking up, as you can see with ATEC X, we’re talking about entrepreneurship.”
At the same time, the investor, entrepreneur, author and TV star also appealed to the younger generation to seize this opportunity:
“I know we are in a pandemic, but we will overcome it and we will all have great opportunities. Think positive, create something, enjoy life! It’s your time, utilise this opportunity!”
Olympic champion and Ironman worldrecord holder Jan Frodeno, who recognized clear parallels between sport and entrepreneurship mindsets, made clear what it takes to successfully use opportunities, namely perseverance, goal setting and fun. What Frank Thelen, Jan Frodeno and all the other speakers at ATEC X agreed on is their appeal to all young people thinking about the topic of entrepreneurship: “Just go for it!”
ATEC X: Entrepreneurship & Innovation – Online & Worldwide
The ATEC X has impressively demonstrated how important innovation and entrepreneurship are even – or especially – in times of a global pandemic. Not stagnation and restraint, but progress and an entrepreneurial spirit are needed to successfully master special situations and use them for positive change. Effectively driving forward social change means breaking new ground and finding solutions today to the problems of the future – “Exploring Tomorrow. Today.”
State support for the start-up location Aachen
Both the international reach and the strong connection between research and industry are essential components of RWTH Aachen University's strategy to build Europe's largest Tech Incubator. Supported by the initiative „Exzellenz Start-up Center.NRW“ of the NRW Ministry for Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitisation and Energy, RWTH Aachen University aims to strengthen the transfer of knowledge and technology from research to industry and thus become a beacon for NRW as a start-up location. Increasing its appeal far beyond the borders of NRW and Germany is the goal of the „EXIST-Potentiale“, program, a funding measure of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. As one of 12 German universities in the funding category “Convincing internationally”, RWTH Aachen University not only wants to offer start-ups from within the university access to an international network, but at the same time to inspire future international founders to start their business in Aachen.