Celebrating Entrepreneurial Spirit
Who will be the chosen few of 2020? That’s the difficult question facing the jury of this year’s German Entrepreneur Award (GEA). Last year’s winners were characterized by a strong social purpose as well as the right formulas for success.
The award is Germany’s most prestigious prize for up-and-coming businesses. Handed out every year since 2002 by Stern magazine, German broadcaster ZDF, the carmaker Porsche and the Sparkasse network of banks, with support from the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, it recognizes fledgling companies who show outstanding promise in the categories “Start-Up” and “Rising Star.”
The three finalists for the company awards will receive expert advice and support from the four heavyweight sponsors of the prize, plus access to the prize’s alumni network and a healthy dose of prestige, which will be sure to attract the attention of investors.
“The German Entrepreneur Award is one of the most important forums in Germany for shining a spotlight on business innovation among fledgling companies,” says Germany Trade & Invest’s managing director of investor acquisition, Achim Hartig. “For winners, it can also be a springboard to take a young company to the next level. The GEAs are a useful indicator to foreign investors about young companies in Germany worth keeping an eye on.”
© GBS German Bionic Systems GmbH
Peter Heiligensetzer, Armin G. Schmidt
German Bionic’s exoskeleton Cray X supports the wearer’s lower back when lifting heavy loads – it can absorb up to 25kg of pressure – thereby reducing the risk of workplace injuries. Founders Heiligensetzer and Schmidt set up shop in 2017 and brought Cray X to market last year.
Major lift for a bionic fledgling
The shortlist represents a broad spectrum of companies and individuals, but the winners are often companies that have both the potential to help society and the prospect of turning a profit. “The GEA is important because it shows millions of people that it’s exciting to be an entrepreneur and that you get recognized if you do something successful,” said German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier at last year’s award ceremony in July. “We also need to assist these people with coming up with the right business models and plans, dealing with bureaucracy and getting financing. But the first thing is to recognize them – that’s an important part of our entrepreneurial culture.”
The 2019 Start-Up award went to Augsburg company German Bionic, which produces exoskeletons that help industrial workers to do heavy lifting (more on this topic in the next issue of Markets Germany). “The German Enterprise Award is an institution,” said German Bionic cofounders Peter Heiligensetzer and Armin G. Schmidt on receiving the prize. “Just being nominated is like being given a knighthood.” The 2019 runners-up were innovative logistics company Cargonexx, which improves efficiency through self-learning algorithms, and precision measurement specialists Swabian Instruments for their ingenious invention, the Time Tagger.
© Dirk Bruniecki
CEO Rolf-Dieter Lafrenz set out to solve the problem that cargo trucks drive around empty 40% of the time – he developed an award-winning logistics platform that uses self-learning algorithms to optimize efficiency in the shipping industry. Cargonexx works with 8,000 hauliers and reported a threefold increase in volume in 2018.
© Dirk Bruniecki
Helmut Fedder, Michael Schlagmüller, Markus Wick
Swabian’s Time Tagger is a multichannel time-to-digital converter that monitors input signals in real time based on quantum research. The company turned over €1.2m in 2018, two years after its founding.
Joy for a toymaker
The Rising Star prize for more established young companies was presented to Düsseldorf-based Boxine, which makes cuddly toy figures that play CDs of audio fairytales and music for children. The runners-up in this category were collaboration Factory, which develops “breathing” software for managing highly complex projects, and cutting-edge online marketer OMR.
“The GEA network is the Who’s Who of German enterprise, and we look forward to profiting from its expertise,” said Boxine cofounders Patric Faßbender and Marcus Stahl at the ceremony. Meanwhile, a special Lifetime Achievement award was given to Alfred Theodor Ritter, who rescued the Ritter Sport chocolate company from economic difficulty while making it ecologically and socially sustainable.
And last but not least is the prize for school initiatives. Last year, it went to the LUVAQ team from the western German town of Geisenheim for their ingenious ideas on how to provide clean drinking water for developing countries.
It’s not easy for companies to get nominated for a GEA, let alone win one. Any company, including foreign-owned ones, located and creating jobs in Germany is potentially eligible. However, candidates need to be nominated by a committee of 300 experts selected from companies, universities, government and venture-capital funds. Nominees are currently being evaluated, and the jury will whittle the shortlist down to the top three by April. The 2020 award ceremony will take place on September 8 in Berlin.
© Boxine GmbH
Patric Faßbender, Marcus Stahl
Tonies is a new and child-friendly way of listening to audiobooks and music. The player – a cuddly cube or toy that can be taken to bed – is proving a runaway success with parents. Founders Patric Faßbender and Marcus Stahl posted a staggering €60m in turnover in 2018 despite being in a highly competitive market.
© Dirk Bruniecki
Collaboration Factory’s “breathing” software offers an adaptable solution for project management for the today’s digital era. Rupert Stuffer recognized that conventional methodologies were not meeting the current increasingly complex business processes and set up the company in 2014. By 2018 it had a turnover of €10m.
© OMR19 Julius Schrank
OMR is a new kind of digital media enterprise that combines seminars, events, journalism and entertainment. Cofounder Philipp Westermeyer started giving seminars on digital marketing, which became so popular that they became the OMR Festival. Today, it attracts more than 50,000 visitors to Hamburg. Founded for just €25,000, OMR turns over double-digit millions.