“The Allies won the war ‘because our German scientists were better than their German scientists’” – Sir Ian Jacob, Military Secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Recently, my wife Zaib, founder of the robotics company MakerArm, and I visited Germany where we were very kindly hosted by our friends Dr. Paul Achleitner and his wife, Dr. Ann-Kristin Achleitner. Paul is the former Chairman of Deutsche Bank’s Board, and Ann-Kristin is a Director with Munich Re, Lazard, and several other large firms. She is also a distinguished affiliated professor at the Technical University of Munich. For a while now, we have been excited to return to beautiful Bavaria, which has been at the forefront of innovation for centuries. Munich is renowned for its scientific, technological, and economic contributions, and it is precisely the sort of place that fuels my enthusiasm for the future.
L to R: Bastian, Zaib, Thomas, Joram, Alexander, Amir, Daniel and Paul
We began our tour at the Technical University of Munich and the UnternehmerTUM venture accelerator affiliated with the university. The Technical University of Munich, with over 50,000 students, is a world-renowned institution dedicated to advancing science and technology. Its mission is to further “research and innovations for society.” We come at it from different angles – commercial and educational – but innovations that propel society forward are also at the heart of SparkCognition’s manifesto and a cause dear to me.
The university’s venture accelerator, UnternehmerTUM, perfectly embodies this philosophy of innovating for societal benefit, and it was our next stop. UnternehmerTUM incubates cutting-edge startups across sectors such as artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum, and space. Like any leading accelerator, it supports startups and entrepreneurs, helping them turn their ideas into successful businesses. On offer are various resources, including mentorship, networking, and co-working spaces. But what makes UnternehmerTUM different is the exceptional quality of its leadership. As he walked us through the facility, we couldn’t help but be impressed by Dr. Helmut Schoenenberger, CEO of the accelerator.
Along with a capable group of partners, he manages the $400M UVC Venture Fund. This team isn’t just seeding companies and building a pier to nowhere; they build bridges to growth and genuinely help young companies succeed. The fund supports innovation across the EU technology ecosystem, particularly for UnternehmerTUM-based entrepreneurs.
L to R: Helmut, Zaib, a humanoid robot at TUM, Paul and Amir
We continued our visit by meeting with many Munich-based innovators, including Daniel Metzler, the founder of the European space company ISAR Aerospace; Bastian Behrens, the founder of the manufacturing startup Blackwave, and Kevin Berghoff, the founder of QuantumDiamonds. His company is building a fascinating new type of sensor using machine learning and quantum effects.
Isar Aerospace is a particularly intriguing space company building a new type of space launch vehicle. Founded in 2018, the startup has raised several hundred million dollars in funding to develop its launch vehicle. We were impressed by the technical expertise and the level of innovation demonstrated by their team. We hear a lot about the US and Chinese space programs, but it is exciting to see a European company tackling the challenge of affordable access to space. As far as humanity is concerned, the more, the merrier!
Another company that caught our attention was Blackwave, an emerging aerospace supplier. This startup is developing high-performance carbon parts for lightweight applications. With their parts incorporated, they expect products to be faster, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly than current alternatives. Blackwave already has large European industrial clients like Ariane and Airbus and is also a provider to Isar. Their core differentiation is their lightning-fast approach to production, which Bastian tells us is up to twenty times faster than their competition.
Kevin Berghoff, the founder and CEO of QuantumDiamonds is building a new type of sensor using machine learning and quantum effects. The sensor itself is “atom-sized.” Mind-blowing, if you stop to think about this. His company wants to use this new class of sensors to detect and measure tiny temperature and magnetic field changes. The potential applications are vast, ranging from medical diagnostics to environmental monitoring.
While this was a small sampling of the many innovative firms we learned of during this trip, these specific companies are remarkable in their own right as examples of the technological prowess at work in Munich.
Beyond the startups themselves, we also had the opportunity to meet with several of the venture capitalists who have backed them, including Dr. Thomas Lange of Achleitner Ventures, Joram Voelklein of Alpine Space Ventures, and Dr. Alexander Schellong of Schwarz Group. Hearing their insights on the technology industry and the challenges and opportunities ahead was enlightening. All these funds have a strong focus on industrial technology and innovation. It was quite clear in our conversation that they are committed not only to supporting and investing in the most promising startups and entrepreneurs in Munich but also helping them achieve global scale. Dr. Schellong, in particular, highlighted the 133.6B euro annual revenue of Schwarz Group as an example of the type of partner to which his portfolio companies have access.
After our interactions with the stars of Munich’s academia, industry, and venture, we luckily still had some time to see more of this beautiful, historic city. Our visit to the gorgeous Theatine Church was memorable. Its white columns and great dome drew us in with magical effect.
The Theatine Church
We went next to the BMW museum. The building alone is a sight to behold, with its low-polygon structure and futuristic facade. Exploring the vast and fascinating collection of cars, engines, and motorcycles was a joy. I can watch a complex mechanism at work for hours, so the little time I had at the museum seemed rushed. Nonetheless, I was particularly drawn to the various engines on display, including the iconic 1944 BMW 003 jet engine that was used in the Arado AR-234 aircraft. Looking at the cross-section on display, I was simply awe-struck that it had been built eighty years ago. In the quality of its finish, it looked almost contemporary.
This visit was a fantastic opportunity to witness first-hand the level of innovation and technological advancement that is taking place in vibrant Munich. The city is clearly emerging as a global hub for entrepreneurial activity and is already a hotbed of innovation attracting the brightest minds across Europe. The spirit of invention in Munich is not new but rather a continuation of that desire to innovate embedded deep within the Teutonic soul.
The success of Munich’s technology sector is not due solely to the quality of research and innovation but the comprehensive all-around strength of the ecosystem supporting entrepreneurs and startups. The city’s universities, venture funds, and accelerators all play an essential role in creating an environment that fosters creativity, collaboration, and innovation. We witnessed that sense of togetherness and community. The energy and enthusiasm on display were infectious, and Zaib and I both found ourselves inspired by the ambition and dedication of the founders we met.
BMW 003 jet engine from 1944 at the BMW Museum
While I’ve been to Munich before, this visit was indeed an eye-opening experience. We got a glimpse of the sheer depth of innovation in play here for the first time. We do not doubt that Munich will have a significant role in shaping the future of technology. As we return to Texas, we will share the insights gained from our trip with our teams at SparkCognition and MakerArm and work to build long-term connections between Austin and Munich. We look forward to excellent outcomes from these partnerships in the years ahead.