Moving and Changing Like Logistics: The KLU Start-Up Day 2019

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An Interview with Professor Hanno Friedrich and KLU student Carla Soriano

This time, the students claimed KLU’s Start-Up Day as their own. Encouraged by Hanno Friedrich, Assistant Professor of Freight Transportation - Modelling and Policy, KLU student Carla Soriano created a new concept for the day. Her motivation in doing so was to facilitate an even more interactive and dynamic exchange between logistics start-ups. Having started in 2017 with 11 start-ups, this year’s third edition of the event, held on February 8, attracted more than 40 start-ups.

Three parallel sessions presented novel business models and fresh ideas in different markets: container transport, tracking and transparency, traffic and mobility, trucking, transport planning, maritime logistics, air cargo courier, CEP (Courier Express Parcel) for e-commerce, food, warehouse technologies, and the last mile.

With 300 attendees in 2019, KLU’s Start-Up Day has been growing every year. In three words, what has made the event so successful?

Hanno Friedrich:Atmosphere! There was a very friendly and open atmosphere. Students are really into start-ups and innovation, and they really wanted to understand their approaches. The second one would be a network effect, also among the start-ups. And thirdly, there was a mix of different participants, especially people from start-ups and students. Many professionals have also started coming to the event.

Carla Soriano: Sticking with three words, networking is a big one to me. Also, it was a dynamic event because it is moving and changing. This is also how logistics and supply chains work. The last one is openness. Everyone was reachable; you felt no sense of hierarchies. Everyone was on the same level, and you had the chance to approach anyone you were able to.

HF: Speaking of openness, we did not plan this to be an exclusive event. We weren’t just picking out the big names. We invited start-ups that were interested in coming here. We made an effort to invite participants from other countries. We also invited students, alumni and companies from outside KLU.

Did you have a favorite moment after all these hours of preparation?

CS: For me personally, when I finished giving my opening speech, that was my favorite moment (laughing). I am not a huge fan of speaking in public. But I think everything was great. I loved planning the event, running around, and just making sure everything was running smoothly.

HF: The best moment in KLU Start-Up Day is the start. There is always an opening video produced by the students, setting the tone for the day. The film makes it dynamic and young, and it shows the students’ passion for logistics. This is a strong moment.

Carla, you made the contact with the start-ups in advance. Which confirmation made you especially happy?

CS: I was pretty attracted by one start-up from Sweden, Einride. They focus on autonomous driving, which is a really great topic. Even if it is not legal in Germany, it is something interesting to hear about.

HF: Of course, there are some start-ups that are bigger, more cutting-edge, or just new to our event. But we were happy about all the start-ups we had! It was especially great to have the international ones there. GreyOrange, for example, is a warehousing start-up which we were thrilled to have. Also Einride from Sweden. Freightos from Israel was a big thing last year as was Picnic from the Netherlands. These are start-ups that are usually difficult to get to Germany.

CS: There was also Ontruck from Spain. Them coming was a major achievement since international start-ups have to put up with a longer trip in order to present here.

Besides these fresh faces, were there any returning start-ups from last year?

HF: We had, for example, Cargonexx and Instafreight who were here for the very first year and have continued to come back ever since. You see big progress in their presentations and where they are in their business. That is an interesting thing to look at.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to a company being a start-up or not?

HF: It is young, small start-up companies we want to look at. A start-up should be new, innovative in terms of a cutting-edge technology or area, and it should be less than ten years old. Now, when it comes to financing, many start-ups in logistics are company-backed. For example, Angel is a start-up backed by Fiege. This is a fresh way for companies to try and do innovation. Rather than doing it in-house, they found a start-up. Still, even if you think a start-up is independent, it might be backed by some larger company.

Carla, students have been deeply involved this year. What was your contribution?

CS: My part was mainly coordinating the event. We also started brainstorming about what we wanted to change for the Start-Up Day from last year. I actually suggested that we should have students much more involved. I wanted it to be voluntary because then they would be even more into doing things and being part of it. After all, the students aren’t there for a grade. They want to be there.

HF: For example, we had two groups of students. One was required to be there since they are in my course, and it was a part of their course work. They led the five-minute introductions to the sessions, highlighting where their areas of expertise were. That said, we also had a group of students volunteering.

CS: So, the volunteer students were session managers. That means they were in charge of their session and all the start-ups in it. They were the ones responsible for collecting the presentations,  answering the start-ups’ questions, and doing the last mile on the event. It was a lot of responsibility because technology is not always on our side. In the end, everything was perfect and start-ups were really grateful for the support.

What were the major changes in this year’s concept?

CS: Since the beginning of the brainstorming process, it was clear that we expected the event to be bigger. We wanted the sessions to be more interactive with active student participation, leading us to introduce a new format. We created different sessions for specific markets. Each session started off with a short student introduction, followed by the start-up pitches and a round table discussion moderated by faculty members and professionals. We also wanted to create a better platform for start-ups and attendees to connect in a more personal way. That’s how the idea of the Marketplace began.

The Start-up Day proved to be a great recruiting event for both start-ups and KLU students. How did you make it happen?

HF: At KLU, we have a great mix of international management students with strong backgrounds in logistics. So these were exactly the students these start-ups were looking for.

CS: It was advantageous for the start-ups to see the students organizing the event so they could have a closer interaction. They were able to make direct contact to a student in their session who was highly interested in them. They were also able to gain some new insight with the help of the student who welcomed them. They were able to find about their experiences at KLU and ask more personal questions about the student’s area of expertise and current development projects. This has already led to companies sending out guest speakers to KLU and asking us to come visit them. Making these connections was easier than if only KLU staff and faculty had organized the event.

How much work and effort does it take to create such an inspiring day?

CS: Officially, I would say ten hours a week (laughing). But I didn’t really count the hours, because this is something I am really passionate about. I love planning events and taking care of every single detail to make it perfect. In the end, if you see everyone smiling and you hear nice feedback about the outcome, that is the best part of it.

HF:(laughing) Ten hours a week … that was the mini-job she had, right? The schedule was nice because we started in October. Then we pushed very hard to be ready with all the invitations towards the end of the year. After the Christmas break, we finalized the details.

CS: What was really useful for us was that we built a concept for the Start-Up Day and really stuck to it. Whenever you want to do something new, either as a start-up or like us here planning this event, you need to try to just stick to your idea as much as you can. So you actually can make it happen.

Taking a step back from the event itself, what are the most important current developments in the transports and logistics market?

HF: Often, start-ups in logistics are platforms. It started with matching platforms in the 2000s. Nowadays, it is going much more into taking over responsibility for the service with digital forwarders. This has started especially in ocean transports like Flexport. The transport and logistics market is influenced by tracking and transparency devices. This is about monitoring and planning. These developments were already being shown in 2017 and 2018. What is relatively new are platforms in the warehousing sector like Sharehouse.

In the food session, we had some start-ups that were looking at sustainability. The main focus of ReCycleHero is not to make profit but to activate people. This social aspect is a new component. Perhaps we will have more of them next year. That would be nice.