SWM CEO Dr. Florian Bieberbach. © Martin Hangen

How Stadtwerke München Cooperates with Startups: An Interview with SWM Boss Dr. Bieberbach

We spoke with Dr. Florian Bieberbach, CEO of Stadtwerke München (SWM), about the Munich startup landscape and how Stadtwerke is already collaborating with startups to foster innovation.

Dr. Bieberbach, what are the most important issues for the future that SWM is involved in at the moment?

All of our major areas of business, namely energy supply, communication and mobility, are topics of the future. I view that as a stroke of luck and a challenge at the same time. All three areas are undergoing fundamental change that is altering and augmenting the value-added chains. Just a few of the fields that are relevant to us, each with many detailed topics of their own, are electromobility, autonomous driving, sector coupling, smart home, connectivity and IoT and also smart network control. What that means for us is that we have to adjust our business models and, in the same light, redefine our relationship with our customers. That, in turn, also means a shift in perception, in how we position ourselves as a company and in the kind of management culture we lead.

Climate-neutral energy supply remains a core topic for us. After all, we’ve been working on the energy transition for ten years. However, its implementation and the many details involved will have us busy for many years to come, as is demonstrated by the development of geothermal energy for climate-friendly district heating in Munich.

“Public services go digital”

Digitization as the driver for effectiveness and efficiency as well as multi-faceted technological breakthroughs play a major role for us. That includes data analytics, artificial intelligence and AR (augmented reality). We’re already benefitting from new digital solutions in many fields, for example in maintenance. Our LoRa network lays the foundation for a wide range of applications in the field of connectivity. And with the development of service-on-demand offers, we’re complementing what the city has to offer in terms of mobility.

SWM also takes a broader view and works in various partnerships and on projects both on a local level and with industry partners.

We’re currently experiencing a very challenging and exciting time that you could summarize with the phrase “public services go digital.”

A lot of untapped potential for collaboration with startups

What role do startups play in these topics?

I’m very pleased that collaborating with startups is becoming increasingly common for us. It’s a classic win-win situation that offers advantages both for us as an established company and also for startups: Startups help us complement our portfolio. When it comes to topics that we either have not addressed or recognized yet – or those we simply haven’t had time for – startups are able to tackle and implement them faster. In exchange, we give them the opportunity to actively shape the future with new concepts in an exemplary international city.

Innovative strength also comes from our own staff. We have excellent employees with outstanding expertise and a healthy dose of curiosity. It’s perfect when that comes together with “startup spirit.”

Are you already working together with startups?

We’re working with startups in some areas and the experience has been positive so far. We still have a lot of untapped potential. Cooperating with a startup is something that also has to be learned. We definitely still need to develop in that respect. But I’m guessing we aren’t that much different compared to other companies.

What work is being done in concrete terms? Where do the responsibilities, duties and liberties lie? 

There isn’t a general answer to that question. It varies from issue to issue and depends on what both of us aim to achieve and also on the startup’s expectations. Our aspiration is to create an environment that makes it possible for both parties to successfully implement a project.

SWM’s door is open to startups

How should a startup contact SWM if it thinks cooperation could be interesting? Do you already have a specific startup program or person to contact – perhaps also scouts out looking for startups?

The first point of contact for startups is SWM’s innovation management. They work closely with “New Business,” a department that is dedicated exclusively to new business models and always looking for good ideas. We also attend startup events and conferences. We’re there to communicate: “We’re open and interested in excellent cooperation – come talk to us!” We’ve also played an active role in the very early concept stages: We work closely with universities and innovation centers to support and promote good ideas.

“As a place of innovation, Munich has long since outgrown its infancy”

What does a startup need to offer for SWM to be interested in cooperation?

First, it would need an interesting kind of technology, a service or a product that would fit and/or complement our portfolio. We’re not looking to cooperate in areas outside of our existing lines of business. Moreover, the startup should also share our values. We as a company act sustainably in many ways. We have strong local roots and take responsibility for Munich and the region.

How do you view Munich as a startup location? Where do you think there might be potential to improve or catch up?

As a place of innovation, Munich has long since outgrown its infancy and is becoming even more attractive. We have industrial companies that are world leaders in their fields and strong SMEs. We even have several excellent universities that are actively involved in research and cultivate young talent. We have a series of local patrons who feel responsible for the city and its future viability. Last but not least, Bavaria and Munich are areas that will continue to grow and have recognized the need to continue to develop the necessary infrastructure.

Thank you for the interview!