Munich Startup: Who are you and what does Deepdrive do? Please introduce yourselves!
Felix Poernbacher, Deepdrive: There’s a total of seven of us at Deepdrive, with two managing directors. Stefan takes care of the technical side of things and I take care of the commercial side. I’m not the only non-engineer in the team and have my BA in business administration from TUM and my masters in finance from Bocconi University. In recent years, I worked as an investment banker at Rothschild in London while my co-founders all worked for large companies in the field of e-mobility: at Bosch, Infineon and at the Schaeffler subsidiary Compact Dynamics. That is how they gained a wealth of experience in large-scale production, some in very exciting positions, for example as a member of the project management team for the largest e-machine project at Bosch.
We’ve all known each other for almost ten years and were in Formula Student together, the student motorsport team of the Technical University of Munich. Back then, we built electric race cars together and participated in various competitions with them, for example at Hockenheimring, in Spielberg or in Michigan. That really brought us together as a team before we all worked for the industry. This union of the motorsport spirit, experience with prototypes and professional large-scale production is what distinguishes us as a team.
Develop your own electric car with the plug-and-play platform from Deepdrive
So what do we do? We noticed there are a lot of new players entering the market who want to build their own electric cars, but they’re no longer differentiated based on driving characteristics. That’s exactly where we come in. We developed an electric vehicle platform, so basically the entire vehicle frame of an electric car, including all of the driving functions. It includes the battery, the engine, the steering, the chassis and everything that goes along with it. Developers can build on our plug-and-play platform to create their own electric car. On top of that, our platform is custom-tailored for the future of mobility. We use highly sustainable materials, very simple series manufacturing and are fully operational for autonomous driving and shared mobility.
Munich Startup: What problem does your startup solve?
Felix Poernbacher: The biggest problem for these new players is that it’s very expensive and time-consuming to develop your own vehicles. Our plug-and-play platform can save more than half of the development costs and take two to three years off time-to-market.
And why does that only work with our platform? Our core technology is a highly efficient electric powertrain that is built into the wheel. With this wheel hub motor, there isn’t some big engine mounted to the platform that would make work even more difficult for the company that’s manufacturing the body of the car. Our platform is completely flat, which provides maximum flexibility for the body of the car and you can truly build whatever you want on it. And because the motor is in the wheel, our platform is completely scalable and flexible in length and width. That means any vehicle you can imagine can be built on our platform. That is the main USP of our platform.
“We’re the only company that has developed a wheel hub motor platform”
Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!
Felix Poernbacher: There are other companies that offer platforms, but they all have a different strategic focus. Their basic concept is that they offer their platform to larger OEMs. But none of them have a fully standardized platform that many different players can build on. And what makes that possible is our wheel hub motor, and we’re actually the only company that has developed this kind of wheel hub motor platform.
Munich Startup: What have been your three biggest challenges so far?
Felix Poernbacher: What’s most important to us is speed, and that was probably the first major challenge. We had to be as fast as possible, especially in the beginning, because we needed funding but also needed to have something to show for that funding. So in the last five months, we fully developed and built our core technology and the powertrain technology, validated it at the Fraunhofer Institute testing facility, had it patented and built the first driving platform. And that was truly the biggest challenge so far, getting everything on the road so quickly.
The second big challenge was finding the right market entry. What are we focusing on, what direction are we taking, which players are we concentrating on? Fortunately, we have excellent customer feedback and customer interest, which is really helping us along. We’ve actually already spoken with more than 40 players who are interested in our solution and are supporting us in finding the right market entry. That’s something we’ve now also taken care of, but it was definitely the second biggest challenge.
“We’re all first-time founders”
And the third biggest challenge has to do with us all being first-time founders. That brings all sorts of different challenges along with it. Who is the right tax adviser, how do you found a GmbH, what tool should I use for budget planning? While we all have lots of experience from our former jobs, including the commercial side of things from what I learned in investment banking, the early stage startup issues were simply a major challenge. What really helped us was the network from UnternehmerTUM. We took part in the Xplore program at the beginning of the year and are now Xpreneurs. We have excellent mentors there, who supported us and continue to provide assistance. We’re also in close contact with many founders in the Munich scene who also strongly support us.
Munich Startup: Where would you like to be in one year, and where in five years?
Felix Poernbacher: Our goal is, in almost one year exactly, to have our first street-legal vehicle platforms out on the road in a customer project. They will be individual prototypes that demonstrate that the technology also works on the road in this customer project. In five years, we’ll have onboarded many customers who use our platform and achieve significant volumes with it. We’ll be in serial production with several customers.
For Deepdrive, Munich is “perfect”
Munich Startup: What do you think about Munich as a startup location?
Felix Poernbacher: We moved back to Munich because we see Munich as perfect for us: We’re close to industry, we’re Deeptech, we’re hardware and the ecosystem is excellent for that here. There are many industrial partners who help us with manufacturing and development issues, there are lots of VCs who are also involved in hardware, and then there’s also this whole network. With just one exception, the entire founding team went to TU Munich, we have excellent connections here and have a large network. And like I just mentioned, we were strongly support by UnternehmerTUM. That’s why we view Munich as the right starting point for us.
Munich Startup: Quick exit or staying power?
Felix Poernbacher: Without a doubt, we strongly believe in our idea and we know that Deepdrive has incredible potential. And that’s something we would like to realize.