Young Startup Spirit Knows No Boundaries

Martin Thoma von der PionierGarage. Credits: Manuel Balzer/KIT

The EUCOR Pitch Event attended by French and German students will take place on February 10, 2018. The event is organized under the aegis of PionierGarage. Cooperation partners of this KIT university group are the Institute for Entrepreneurship, Technology Management and Innovation (EnTechnon) at KIT and the "Entrepreneurship Beyond Borders" project of Université de Haute Alsace and Université de Strasbourg. The organizers expect around 40 participants whose projects will be evaluated by a team of six experts from Université de Strasbourg. The overarching goal is the exchange between the universities and the teams.

Christine Grinewitsch from KIT’s International Affairs Service Unit spoke with the main organizers. Professor Dr. Orestis Terzidis, who lived in France for several years, and Alexander Tittel from EnTechnon explain the aims of the event and their striving for internationalization. Martin Thoma from PionierGarage talks about his experiences and the startup spirit of students. Together, they give tips on what young founders should pay particular attention to in a pitch. 

Mr. Thoma, you are studying industrial engineering in the fifth bachelor's semester. Do you already use your knowledge for your own ideas and projects that you would like to implement? Or are your studies in the foreground?
Martin Thoma: The ideas are sprouting up at PionierGarage. I move around in this environment every day and know the people. It often happens, therefore, that I am approached with ideas and asked if I don't feel like participating somewhere. We often organize hackathons at PionierGarage, or a consulting company will come and hold a Design Thinking Workshop. The task is then to develop an idea to market maturity. If you get interesting projects, you will get the desire to realize them.

What prompted you to join PionierGarage?
Thoma: Actually, I came to PionierGarage by coincidence, through friends, friends of friends, and events. I only wanted to dedicate myself a little bit during my studies and now I am even the Managing Director of Events. It is also a lot of fun: The attitude of many members is “either I give 110 percent or nothing at all.” This makes the team spirit and atmosphere here very productive and exciting.

Mr. Terzidis, Mr. Tittel, what is the goal of the pitch event?
Orestis Terzidis: There are several dimensions. On the one hand, the event offers an opportunity for the teams to present themselves and to clarify their thoughts and thus make progress.  On the other hand, the event promotes international networking. The fact that France is our geographical neighbor is an exceptionally favorable situation. We can use it to promote partnership. Both countries are different but complementary in many ways. When a French team suddenly understands what kind of requirements there are in Germany, or vice versa – this sure is interesting. But it's still too rare.
Alexander Tittel: We also want the students to come together, not only to get to know each other, but also to exchange ideas through this pitch. They should learn what ideas exist on the other side of the Rhine and find out whether these ideas are complementary. This can give rise to contacts that can be used to work together. You will find people who can help you answer questions. We are planning a small social event to conclude in the Schlossgarten, so that the French teams can get to know the KIT and its surroundings and exchange ideas with the German teams on a personal level.
Thoma: The main goal is to develop further through the exchange as a team. It is mainly about advancing the teams and giving them the courage to continue working on their ideas.

How can you tell if a pitch is good?
Thoma: There are different criteria, which are sometimes set by the organizer. On the one hand, it is about validating an idea as to how well it can be brought in and how it will perform on the market. What progress has been made, including with regard to the marketing strategy? A very important point that is often underestimated is the team itself. For example, many investors pay much more attention to how the team is put together and whether the members really all support the idea or whether it is just a side project. Without a strong team, the likelihood that the project will fail is very high, as the competition in the startup environment is very strong.

What should young founders pay special attention to during the presentation?
Terzidis: A pitch is a very important communication element, but also a self-discovery element in the entrepreneurship environment. It always helps teams to get their ideas to the point in a specific situation: Who are we, what do we want, what do we do, where do we actually want to go with the thing, what is our strategy?
Thoma: A pitch is about figuring out why the team is special or why it has an advantage over other teams that want to enter the same market. What is my "unfair" advantage, what do I have, what others don't have? You have to be able to sell yourself and your idea in a very short time. You have three minutes for a normal standard pitch. Normally, this would be enough to present a business idea and the team available to realize it. In this event, however, we will extend the time a little bit, as the teams are still at the very beginning and don't have a professional pitch deck that they are used to presenting. We will give them up to five minutes for the pitch. Then the audience will ask questions.

What prompted you to organize the event across borders?
Thoma: PionierGarage is a student association at the KIT. We want to support students, but of course we also want to grow and make ourselves better known. It is an opportunity for us to raise awareness and maintain international relations. Some of our members are currently in Silicon Valley and in London or in other parts of the world and are already trying to promote the startup spirit and the brand Pioniergarage there. Nevertheless, we do not yet have too many contacts in the regional and international fields.

Are you planning further cross-border events?
Thoma: This format is a prototype to see if there is expansion potential. Of course, this can be done in a larger format, just like the biggest German start-up competition GROW organized by students. So far, we have focused very strongly on Karlsruhe and the surrounding area, but next year, we also want to get the EUCOR universities on board and recruit the teams from the universities to participate.


Tuesday, 6 February, 2018 - 14:15