She’s the one whom startups applying for :agile accelerator need to impress first: Maria Freitag reviews applications for submission to the program and decides who gets the first and highly coveted green light. We talked with Maria about her work routines, the selection process, and the challenges involved.
What are the criteria for selecting startups?
As E.ON’s corporate accelerator, we look for projects that relate to the energy industry, are compatible with E.ON’s strategy, and focus on E.ON’s German and European markets. Basically, we are interested in everything from smart home solutions to mobility, renewable energies in combination with the IoT, AI, machine learning, blockchain, and smart grids. Other important factors are the timing (why is this the perfect time for proposed solution?), the startup team, their idea and business model, and current funding. Another plus for candidates would be if their startup has been officially launched. This means that they are incorporated as registered company, consist of a team of at least two, and already have a prototype of their idea.
What does the scouting process look like?
Our scouting process takes place in three steps. First, we review the online and offline applications to see if any of them fit the scouting criteria. For those that do I schedule a call to get to know them and their business models and ideas better. If the call is successful, we follow up with a face-to-face meeting. We like to get a personal impression of the teams. The :agile team then decide which of the shortlisted candidates get invited to the Launchpad, our three-day pre-acceleration event.
What exactly is the Launchpad?
It’s a three-day workshop that helps us get to know the teams better and challenge their ideas. Every day focuses on a different subject: product and strategy, UX/UI and marketing. Our external and in-house Launchpad mentors typically bring a pool of challenges for the startups we invite. After the Launchpad, mentors give valuable feedback to every single team based on our scouting criteria. Based on that as well our own insights we make a final decision of which startups will be invited to :agile accelerator.
What happens with startups after the three months’ accelerator phase is over?
Our aim is to establish long-term partnerships with the participating startups. That’s why we include colleagues from the matching E.ON business sectors, with whom we liaise closely from the very beginning. The highlight of our program is the Demo:Day, where startups present their final pitch to internal E.ON partners and our external network. Based on the feedback received during the Demo:Day and throughout the program, at least one startup of the program will have the opportunity to start piloting with a particular E.ON unit and get financial support of up to 100k€. But even if the pilot phase with :agile/E.ON does not happen for a startup, we keep them in our alumni network and try to help them find external investors and strategic partners.
What is your biggest personal challenge when scouting startups?
To be honest, the hardest thing is to remain objective. I meet so many highly motivated entrepreneurs with inspiring, spirited teams whom I’d love to invite to our program. But we need to keep our focus. If we don’t see a match to E.ON’s innovation business, we can’t accept the startup, hard as that may be. After all, we want to build long-term business relationships with them.
:agile accelerator is present in 3 cities: Essen, Düsseldorf, and Berlin. Why so?
Düsseldorf is :agile’s headquarters. We have a broad network here as well as support from corporates and the city government. It is such an inspiring city with more than 200 startups, many great companies and a brilliant infrastructure for testing new ideas. In Berlin we have an office at EUREF Campus, a symbol of energy transition in Germany. Essen is our newest addition. Joining E.ON headquarters there opened the door to our internal network even wider, strengthening the partnerships with different units and building more bridges for our startups. We believe that startups should feel comfortable where they work, so we’re happy to provide them with three choices.