“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able to make it: as von Matuschka puts it, startups in particular “can bring about disruptive innovation”, replacing outdated business models and technology with avant-garde solutions in numerous sectors and bringing about improvements that benefit everyone.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.