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Rooftop Pitch Potsdam: four minutes to win over investors

published by Karen Esser

16 May 2022 marked the third instalment of Rooftop Pitch Potsdam. Around a dozen startup teams joined the event at the WIS building to present their business ideas to a selection of investors. There was a lot at stake: the latter were ready to fund good ideas and teams to the tune of up to €300,000 and wield their rolodexes on their behalf.

“You are our hope in the face of today’s challenges and those of the future,” Agnes von Matuschka tells those gathered at the third Rooftop Pitch Potsdam event. The managing director of the Park Management at Potsdam Science Park standing in front of around 40 guests, including 20 investors, at the opening of Rooftop Pitch Potsdam on May 16 2022. Eleven startups have the chance to make a four-minute pitch to the room, sharing who they are and what their ideas are, and looking not just for potential financing but also useful contacts. Networking is facilitated by a relaxed gathering over snacks and cold drinks on the roof terrace, hosted by Potsdam Science Park, where they can swap ideas and business models. Everyone is keen to bring novel solutions and product innovations to the market and achieve success. Budding or brand-new startups are reliant on seed capital, because building a viable business requires upfront investment. Founders need to secure hundreds of thousands of euro – sometimes up to half a million – before they can build prototypes, develop software or market products. Only a tiny minority can spare this from their own pockets. Startups find capital from financial institutions, in which case they repay it over time with interest, or from investors who take a stake in the firm. Startups can grow better with capital and with knowhow. There’s also a general public interest in new businesses being able to make it: as von Matuschka puts it, startups in particular “can bring about disruptive innovation”, replacing outdated business models and technology with avant-garde solutions in numerous sectors and bringing about improvements that benefit everyone.

Rooftop Pitch Potsdam: where founders meet investors

Park Management at the Potsdam Science Park has organized the event three times so far, with the help of its partners: Potsdam Transfer, the City of Potsdam, Knappworst Steuerberatung, HPI School of Entrepreneurship, WFBB (Economic Development Agency Brandenburg), Business Angels Club Berlin-Brandenburg and MediaTech Hub Accelerator. There is a broad spectrum of sectors and niches represented, ranging this year from firms like Aizen Technologies, which makes a scanner to check the skin’s level of sun protection, to funki, which synthesizes the milk protein casein and aims to make cheese production possible without any dairy products. There have been apps represented that screen for dementia (memodio), platforms for people to link up with fellow people with chronic conditions (mama health), and initiatives to make better use of the scrap produced in industrial manufacturing (Normcut). Some are still at an early startup stage and come to share their idea for the first time, build up pitching experience and rub shoulders with other founders. Others have some initial investment funds in place and see Rooftop Pitch Potsdam as a means to broaden their networks and win further investors over.

The Mitigant story: from prototypes to finished product to seven-figure investment capital, all within a year

Nils Karn still has fresh memories of pitching his startup to investors and other founders at Rooftop Pitch Potsdam: “it was one of the first in-person events you could go to in 2021, so we were really excited about sharing our idea up front with a live audience.” He was aware of Rooftop Pitch Potsdam from his own prior stint as a project coordinator for Potsdam Transfer. “The format makes it very attractive for startups who want to interact with venture capitalists, and you can always learn a few things from the feedback too.” In 2021 he and his team ended up talking to Brandenburg Capital, which has since invested in the firm: “within a year of founding, we secured a seven-figure sum from various investors. Rooftop Pitch Potsdam was to some extent the catalyst for our later success.” They had been working on a prototype, but were later able to complete a finished product and grow to twelve employees.

The world of the Business Angels

As startups present their ideas on stage, there are around twenty investors sitting in the audience. The latter’s profile is generally one of people who have been successful in their own right, or built up and sold several firms, often ones you’ve never heard of. When they set their sights on a startup they invest from €50,000 to €300,000. For many firms this is the only route into the market. Of equally crucial value are the knowhow and the networks that an investor brings on board. The latter, having already been successful founders or been at another’s side, are aware of the kind of steps that are necessary to gain a market position. This is what makes them known as ‘angel investors’, as they do much more than just taking an equity stake; they bring innovative, market-ready solutions and their rich and varied expertise to the table.

Sebastian Schwenke knows all about what being an angel investor means. He is Managing Director at Business Angels Club Berlin-Brandenburg (BACB), whose around 100-strong membership support budding firms with their experience and capital. Schwenke has already founded a business and has his own investment vehicle, and comes to Rooftop Pitch Potsdam to get to know new firms. “I’m interested in the teams that people on the investor scene don’t yet know,” says Schwenke. “Rooftop Pitch Potsdam brings top-class firms together, often ones coming out of high-profile places like Potsdam Transfer or the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI). I look forward to it as an event, you meet good people and the location and organization are top-notch,” Schwenke adds.

Sebastian Schwenke (center), Managing Director of the Business Angels Club Berlin-Brandenburg e.V. (BACB), in conversation with Nils Karn of Mitigant (left) (c) sevens[+]maltry

How a startup called Voize found investors in the wake of Rooftop Pitch Potsdam 2021

Some firms are already one step further ahead and have also reaped benefits from Rooftop Pitch Potsdam. One such startup is Voize. Twins Fabio and Marcel Schmidberger set out in 2020 to automate how documentation is handled in the elderly care sector. Their gambit was to use highly-specialised AI systems to enable old-age care documentation to be generated by voice input. Care staff would save time by dictating their reports into their smartphones, unlike the traditional system where everything is input manually and multiple documents have to be opened to do that. Voize aims to automate the process. Inputs such as “resident slept badly, has a light cough, temperature 38.2 degrees Celsius, COVID negative” are entered into various documents automatically. The founders claim their system can also recognize specialist jargon, dialects and voice entries made by non-native speakers of German.

With such an attractive business model, the firm had won the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) Business Plan Competition back in 2019. The twins and their founding partner Erik Ziegler were HPI alumni and knew about Rooftop Pitch Potsdam for that reason. As Marcel Schmidberger recalls, “the event was a great opportunity for us, because we had something concrete as an investment target and we could pitch straight to investors.” They’d already done around ten pitches, visited elderly care trade events in Germany, and even gone to California to look for outside investment. But now came the chance to network face-to-face in a relaxed atmosphere in Potsdam. And it worked: “we won an angel investor over with our idea and our business,” Schmidberger affirms, “and he ended up putting money in and taking our startup further as a private seed investor.” Voize has since attracted more investors and even unlocked an investment from one of the world’s biggest startup accelerators, Y Combinator.

Learning and growing thanks to direct investor feedback

At this year’s event the pitches kicked off at around 5:30pm. It’s easy to miss just how excited people are. The audience listens to a passionate and self-aware pitch from Mattia Marco who lays out mama health’s vision of helping people with chronic conditions, and explains how these patients want to interact with others: “they want to be heard.” Following every presentation, the investors can ask questions, not least on the financial aspects: what kind of potential market the founders envisage, how they’ve been doing their marketing, what they’ll specifically do with new funding if they get it. To keep the ball rolling, the Q&A is limited to four minutes – no longer than the pitch. The event culminates with a get-together on the roof terrace at WIS (Wissenschaftsetage building, “science exhibition floor”), where participants can expect to hear some direct feedback from investors and startup founders.

“It was definitely worth it for us coming to Rooftop Pitch Potsdam” is the verdict of Jonas Witt, one of mama health’s three-strong founding team. “We had a great conversation afterwards on the roof terrace, and talked to Business Angels Club Berlin-Brandenburg too – we’re going to be staying in touch. Right now, we’re looking for seed investors who are ready to put in a significant sum.” Another major draw for the mama health founders is the fact that they can learn things by being there: “what’s special about Rooftop Pitch,” the Potsdam born and bred Witt adds, “is that on the one hand we can interact face-to-face with investors, get direct feedback, find out how to do better. That’s incredibly valuable for a growing startup. On the other hand, I find it great to see a local event like this making a contribution to Potsdam. It’s something this region deserves because you’ve got so many great ideas that ought to be given a chance on the market.”

Self-confident and passionate, Mattia Marco of mama health, for example, talks about her desire to help people with chronic illnesses and their need to share with others. (c) sevens[+]maltry

This blog and the projects of Standortmanagement Golm GmbH in Potsdam Science Park are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the State of Brandenburg.

Image credit: (c) sevens[+]maltry