Photo: Lukas Lindner / Munich Startup

Munich Startup Festival: Think circularly

Global warming, scarcity of resources and supply bottlenecks make the topic of the circular economy a particularly pressing one. Which steps are still necessary to achieve a circular economy and what role startups play in this were discussed by the participants of the panel "The next big thing: Munich's way in the circular economy".

The participants of the panel on circular economy started their discussion with a stocktaking. The majority agreed that there is still a lot to be done. Katrin Habenschaden, Deputy Mayor of the City of Munich, admitted:

“We have only been looking at circularity as a whole for a relatively short time. But we are slowly getting into gear on the part of the city.”

The founder of the Community Kitchen, Günes Seyfarth, put it more drastic:

“We can always talk a good game in Germany – also about Circular Economy – but we often still lack the joy of doing and learning in practice.”

In order to achieve circularity, one has to dare to go new ways and to fail sometimes.

Often, there is still a lack of understanding for the entire spectrum that the circular economy requires. Matthias Ballweg, co-founder of Circular Republic, noted that Germany is the world champion in waste collection and that the city of Munich is very well positioned in the field of zero waste. However, many people are not yet aware of sharing models for everyday objects or sustainable product design. Yet this is precisely what it is all about, said Seyfarth. Every company has to ask itself whether it can take responsibility for its product until the end.

Startups as pioneers of the circular economy

At the BMW Group, Karsten Peddinghaus is responsible for sustainability activities. He spoke about a specially designed measuring system with which BMW records the proportion of secondary materials in new vehicles and has consequently set itself high goals in this area. For circularity, he said, it is particularly important to focus on collaborations – also with startups. Benjamin Erhart from UVC Partners also confirmed this. The existing pressure to change shows problems that companies are able solve. Startups can contribute their new ideas and positively influence material flows and recycling processes.

To be able to do that, however, startups need not only capital, but also a corresponding infrastructure and large corporate partners, Ballweg says. The industry as a whole must move towards accepting these startups. BMW is trying to do this through various initiatives such as the Startup Garage, he said. Peddinghaus said:

“Not every startup makes it to a long-term business partner here, but accompanying young companies a bit on their way can also be a contribution to a better, circular future.”

The final question of the round was what is still missing on the way to a circular economy. In addition to municipal subsidies for sustainable management and community initiatives, Habenschaden said that more emphasis should be placed on education on sustainable development, for example through campaigns.

“We can be a best practice example as a city with supposedly small things like sustainable canteens.”

Erhart considered it particularly important to make developments that emerge in the local scene even bigger and to lift them onto the international stage – also with international capital. Nevertheless, the fundamental compulsion for sustainability and the fundamental availability of entrepreneurial talent is already there, he said. He stressed:

“I’m sure it will be another five years at most before we see the first circular unicorn here on the stage of the Munich Startup Festival.”

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