© Plug and Play

“We’re Not a Classic Accelerator”

Plug and Play from Silicon Valley is active in Munich with a wide range of partners and has made the capital city home to three of its programs: retail, insurtech and health. In our interview, Frederike Rohr, Director of Health and Head of Munich of Plug and Play, gives insight into daily business, how the corona crisis has impacted her work and explains what makes Munich a particularly interesting startup city.

Munich Startup: How does daily business look at Plug and Play?

Frederike Rohr: Our CEO and founder Saeed Amidi came into contact with the startup scene very, very early on and invested in early stages in startups such as Dropbox and PayPal. That means classic VC early stage investments are the origins of Plug and Play. And that’s still how we work. We are now all around the world and clustered in different industries – from mobility to fintech, health, insurance, logistics and supply chain or food and retail, we’re basically active across the board and make our own investments in all of these industries.

Our second foothold is our innovation platform within the industries. At most of our locations, we’re not a classic accelerator that gives fresh startups pitch coaching and exchanges money for equity – we don’t do any of that. We have real business cases from our corporate partners in the respective industries. That means the departments come to us looking for a solution to a problem or needing support in a particular area. In such cases, we look for startups that are a perfect match and bring them together with corporates – and do so even before they start the program so they can be absolutely certain about whether they want to pilot together or work on a solution or not.

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Frederike Rohr is Director Health and Head of Munich at Plug and Play.

Corporate partners should learn from each other

Munich Startup: And that then leads to commercialization.

Frederike Rohr: Ideally, yes. We firmly believe that corporate partners could also learn so much from each other. While they are always a kind of competition for one another in the market, they also face the same challenges. We create an open platform where they can talk about these topics and come together with startups to find solutions. We also want to continuously expand the platform. These are all things Plug and Play does, and with 30 offices, we can be found everywhere and in all industries.

Munich Startup: How has the corona crisis affected you? You’re probably all in home office around the globe now, right?

Frederike Rohr: Yes, exactly. For me personally, it’s very, very important for us to still try to maintain communication, both within the team and with our portfolio startups and corporate partners. That means – and this is very American – we have what is known as a ‘morning huddle’ every morning, where all of us in Munich meet up at 9 am to give a brief update. We still do the same thing now digitally, because we think it’s really important to still see each other and not miss out on communication. I also just launched a ‘Lunch Learning Session,’ where each colleague can talk about any topic for ten minutes. Regardless of whether it’s about how to make banana bread or mix a caipirinha, we don’t want to forget how this kind of active, more personal contact among colleagues works. We are also in contact with our portfolio companies, predominantly to talk about how we can support them right now. The extent to which they’ve been affected obviously depends on their industry.

‘Fireside Chats’ with founders

Munich Startup: And you also hold your events digitally now. How is that working?

Frederike Rohr: We’ve taken the opportunity to offer other formats due to COVID-19. One example are our ‘Fireside Chats’ with our CEO Saeed and guests such as the Head of Digital Health Innovation from Roche Diagnostics. The chat was about the general situation and the diagnostic kit that Roche developed. Another guest was the CEO of Webasto – the company is also one of our partners and really made the headlines because it was one of the first companies hit by corona in Germany. That Fireside Chat was about how the Webasto CEO dealt with the entire situation in his company. How things will look after the crisis depends on how it develops – but we definitely want to be the last ones to push events in our office with 300 or 400 people flying in from around the world. In the follow-up to the crisis, our events will be smaller to begin with or held virtually.

Munich Startup: How is Plug and Play organized in Munich?

Frederike Rohr: We’re represented by three verticals in Munich: insurance, health and retail. We originally started with retail, which developed into the Retail Tech Hub. That is the program that was originally founded as a joint venture with MediaMarktSaturn. Since then, we’ve been able to get further local partners on board such as S. Oliver, the Schwarz Gruppe, BMW, Visa and Wirecard. Insurance then followed with partners such as Generali, Achmea and Versicherungskammer Bayern. The third area is health, originally with our founding partner Roche Diagnostics and now with Sanofi, Lonsa, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sana Kliniken and Universitätsklinikum Schleswig-Holstein. There are also many nice areas of overlap, particularly in health and insurance, but also in retail and health, for example when you think about wearables. Moreover, we have a team that concentrates on investments to find the right startups for our corporate partners. We also have a team that organizes events for our corporate partners and the startups in the program. And then we have our colleagues who take care of our corporate partners and make sure the platform grows continuously with new corporate partners. All together, daily business is very, very multifaceted for us.

“A lot depends on how far along companies are in their innovation process”

Munich Startup: How do you collaborate with your corporate partners?

Frederike Rohr: That is of course quite varied, because what happens depends very much on the partner. In health, for example, Roche and Sanofi are two partners who are very involved. They each have their own teams who exclusively take care of the Startup Creasphere partnership that we work with. These teams are also the in-house point of contact for departments actively looking for a new solution. But not all corporate partners have something in common – the organizational matrices of large and global companies, some of which are complex, mean we need to help with communicating with startups and in the ventures area. Our corporate partners also communicate with each other through our platform. In general, a lot depends on how far along the companies are in their innovation process and what they’re looking for. What is very important to us is being able to bring the right startups together with the right companies through our programs and events.

Munich Startup: How did it come about that retail, insurance and health are located in Munich?

Frederike Rohr: We select our locations based on the local industries. For insurance, Munich is incredibly well suited, and for health as well because many pharmaceutical companies and hospital chains are not too far away. We choose certain locations simply because we know a lot is happening in those local industries. Then you also have retail because MediaMarktSaturn was our joint venture partner and they are located in Ingolstadt.

“Munich creates super conditions for startups”

Munich Startup: How do you view the startup scene in Munich in general?

Frederike Rohr: Munich creates super conditions for startups. Through its universities first of all, which provide so many young, bright minds who also have lots of good ideas. And then there’s the fact that Munich has so many great companies that were founded locally, which puts a lot of startup experience in the city. And of course you have the many large industrial partners who we also work with. We shouldn’t forget that the startup world also needs supply and demand – in B2B business, that means companies who are interested in the solution I’m developing. I think the economic clout of Munich also provides super conditions. The various innovation centers – at the universities and also at large companies – do an excellent job supporting just that. Munich and Bavaria are also positioned very well in terms of funding. An example is the CDTM program of TU and LMU. So many fantastic startups have started there, such as our portfolio companies Kliniserve and Presize. And then you have so many events in Munich where you can hear pitches, and I think they’re all great. We’re always surprised to see how many fantastic new startups are founded in Munich.

In the case of investment, plug and play helps with scaling

Munich Startup: How far along does a startup need to be to be relevant for you?

Frederike Rohr: In general, what’s important for all of the startups that we bring together with corporate partners in our program is that they know what they’re doing. The startups need to at least have a product or prototype and be able to live up to the needs and wants of our partners’ departments. But if the startups don’t even know where they want to go yet and don’t have any resources and perhaps lack the manpower to handle it all, that doesn’t help much.

Munich Startup: What are the most interesting startups in Munich that you have encountered so far?

Frederike Rohr: There are so many interesting cases in Munich. One example that comes to mind is Ory. The startup is working on an open source solution for identity infrastructure and services that I find extremely interesting. Ory has its office in our coworking space, which we also rent to startups who aren’t part of our program. Particularly in the health sector, there are so many incredibly interesting companies – that might also be because I head the office and our department – such as Bodylabs.

Munich Startup: To be successful, a startup needs to…

Frederike Rohr: …be hard working, driven, on the ball, always open to new developments and always strive to continuously evolve. The most important thing, however, is being dynamic and having the right skillset in the team.

Munich Startup: Whom can startups contact if they would like to get in touch with you?

Frederike Rohr: Basically all of us. But for specific programs, that would be Caro (c.wais@pnptc.com), who is our point of contact for retail, Fabian (fabian@pnptc.com) is our guy for all things health and medtech, and for insurance, our point of contact is Sebastien (sebastien@pnptc.com).