Maresa Schleich is not only responsible for Munich startups at PwC, but also for the innovation ecosystem throughout southern Germany.
© PwC

How PwC can help startups scale up

A large consulting firm and startups, how does that work? Working with a consulting firm like PwC can be particularly interesting for B2B startups. In addition to contacts with SMEs and corporations as potential pilot clients, PwC also offers an accelerator to help startups scale during the growth phase. We spoke to Maresa Schleich, Innovation Ecosystem Lead for Southern Germany at PwC, and Florian Nöll, EMEA Startups, Scaleups & Venturing Leader at PwC.

Munich Startup: How can startups work with a large consulting firm like PwC? Your services are hardly affordable for young companies?

Maresa Schleich: Startups are the engine of our economy and the innovation driver of the future. That’s why PwC set up the “Next Level” team a few years ago, which focuses on various innovation topics and in particular on cooperation between startups and established companies.

We are of course aware that startups have different needs and challenges than established companies. That’s why we have tailored our services and prices specifically to this target group. Topics such as investor readiness, employee participation, pricing, funding or corporate sales readiness – to name just a fraction of our support options – play a major role for startups in the growth phase. And this is exactly where the advantage of working with a “big consulting firm like PwC” comes into play: PwC has an extensive network of experts from a wide range of industries and specialist areas, so we can advise on most topics.

Nöll: “Networking between startups and corporates plays a decisive role”

Munich Startup: Pilot projects with well-known companies are often a door opener, especially for B2B startups. How can you support them?

Florian Nöll: In addition to advising startups, supporting established companies is also a pillar of PwC “Next Level”. We support SMEs and corporations in gaining access to the innovation ecosystem, getting in touch with interesting startups and finding innovative solutions to current challenges. Accordingly, networking between startups and corporates plays a crucial role. In our startup program “Scale” startup program, this is precisely the core component. We understand the challenges of our corporate clients and can place suitable startups from our community accordingly. Our success rate for such projects is 88 percent.

Munich Startup: You talk about an 88 percent success rate for “venture clienting” projects from startups and corporates. How do you measure this success? And can you name any best practices?

Florian Nöll: For us, a collaboration project between startups and corporates is successful if a business relationship is established between the two parties through our support – this can range from a customer relationship to a jointly developed product to an investment. In the past, for example, this has resulted in investments by scale corporate partners in startups. Customer relationships are the most common result of our networking. It helps that I myself have many years of experience working with corporates as a founder.

Munich Startup: Are there any industries or technologies that you are increasingly working with?

Maresa Schleich: Ingeneral, we focus on B2B solutions in order to provide the greatest added value for our customers. We also work in an industry-agnostic way – we are very broadly positioned, from deep tech to agriculture and the automotive sector.

What does the Accelerator at PwC offer?

Munich Startup: PwC has also launched its own accelerator. How exactly does participation work?

Maresa Schleich: “Scale” is a three- to six-month program that supports startups in many topics related to growth. The core elements of the program are
1. masterclasses on topics such as investor readiness, pricing, digital marketing, corporate sales readiness or hiring;
2. exchange with exciting personalities such as serial founders, investors or companies;
3. sparring with PwC startup experts on the individual challenges of the startup and
4. pitch opportunities in front of the PwC network.

Our target group are B2B tech-focused startups in the seed to Series A phase. The participants have completed the proof of concept and are now focusing on scaling. The aim of the program is to optimally prepare the founders for the upcoming scaling and to support them with our expertise and our network.

As we see that many startups need support in raising capital, we also have the “Raise” program. Here we help startups to become investor-ready within 3 months. This means we support them in all the important steps of approaching investors – from the pitch deck and preparing relevant documents to the big Investor Day, where the startups have the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned to investors from the PwC network.

Special edition for female founders and for startups with a migration background

Munich Startup: You also offer a support opportunity that is specifically aimed at founders who are underrepresented in the startup sector – for example women, people with a migration background or with disabilities. How did this come about and how do the participants benefit?

Florian Nöll: Unfortunately, the start-up scene is still not very diverse. This year’s German Startup Monitor proved this once again. And that’s despite the fact that startups benefit from diverse founding teams. In order to promote more diversity in the startup scene, we launched a “special edition” of the Scale program for female founders with one of our scale partners in 2022. In 2023 and 2024, we want to expand the spectrum even further and enable female founders as well as founders with a migration background or disability to participate. With the program “Underrepresented  Founders” program, we want to give this group more support, visibility and access to relevant contacts.

Munich Startup: You are also an individual sparring partner for startups. What was the coolest experience you’ve had here?

Maresa Schleich: As I originally come from the field of human resources and worked in the people team of a startup myself for several years, I am also happy to support startups in my current role with the challenges of recruiting, employee retention, employer branding and HR processes. The best experience is the positive feedback from the startups and learning that the insights and change of perspective have a direct added value for the founders. But the best thing about my work is definitely being in direct contact with the startup ecosystem and enabling the successful networking of the players!

Potential for improvement in overarching networking in the ecosystem

Munich Startup: What do you think could be improved in Munich as a start-up location?

Maresa Schleich: Munich already offers a great environment for startups – be it in terms of start-up advice, coworking spaces, startup events and many other support opportunities.

I still see potential for improvement in the area of networking. It seems to me that the ecosystem is still viewed and used in a very differentiated way. Startups, investors and established companies still keep to themselves. Yet the interaction between these three players holds the most potential!

I have therefore set myself the goal of supporting and strengthening this networking in my work at PwC. For example, we are organizing a major event in Munich in December on the topic of “Developing the startup ecosystem in Bavaria“. This is where we bring the entire ecosystem together and promote the exchange of ideas.

Munich Startup: What is the best way for a startup to get in touch with you?

Maresa Schleich: That’s very easy. Feel free to get in touch with me or my colleagues, whether by email, phone, LinkedIn or, of course, in person at events. Together we will find out how we can best support you at “Next Level”!

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