Oktoberfest and the Bits & Pretzels conference: a dissimilar pairing that – perhaps for this very reason – has become a permanent fixture in the calendars of the German start-up scene and large companies over the last few years. But this year, the spirit of entrepreneurship and the willingness to take risks were once again required to prevent Bits & Pretzels from suffering the same fate as this year’s Oktoberfest. Quickly and decisively, Bits & Pretzels 2020 was successfully remodeled into a 100 percent virtual conference week. The initial venture soon turned out to be a great success for all involved. Once again this year, #Bits20 attracted founders from more than 80 different countries to the virtual conference, with a varied program of A-list guests as well as networking, inspiration and the exchange of ideas. We at Nunatak are proud to be an official partner of this event for the third year in a row and to have experienced its growth first-hand.

Individual building blocks of the specially developed virtual event platform even quickly proved to represent real added value compared with the in-person events of previous years. Participants could easily switch between the main streaming channel, two auxiliary stages and master classes. They could also submit questions live via the chat, while in the so-called Founders Roulette founders were matched up randomly by lottery, over several hours every day, for one-on-one video chats.

On the second day of the conference, we at Nunatak were allowed to share the virtual stage with top-class participants. Between a speech by former Google top manager Eric Schmidt and one by the CEO of Slack, Steward Butterfield, we dedicated ourselves to the topic “Stronger Together – or, in our case: Innovation succeeds better together.”

It was a special honor to include representatives from our clients ALDI Nord and Vonovia live in the session to talk about their perspective on collaborations with start-ups and how both individuals promote them in their own companies. 

Alexander Weihe, Head of Innovation & Business Building at the Vonovia real estate group, appeared live on stage in Munich, while Swen Klussmeier, Director Innovation Management, joined in virtually from the ALDI Nord headquarters. Together with Nunatak Managing Director Juliane Veits and Project Lead Jan-Henning Jestädt – both in traditional Bavarian garb (there has to be at least a touch of the Oktoberfest feeling!) – they talked about five important factors for successful cooperation between start-ups and corporates: 

  1. Define clear goals and create the appropriate framework
  2. Involve senior stakeholders early and intensively 
  3. Enable quick and easy access to critical infrastructure
  4. Establish a home for your collaborations 
  5. Make it easy to work with you (whether start-up and corporate)

In addition, Alexander Weihe and Swen Klussmeier presented the respective innovation approaches of their companies, some of which were designed and successfully implemented with the help of Nunatak.

For ALDI Nord, we supported the company in setting up their first in-house innovation unit. Together, we defined strategic priorities, redesigned the innovation process and made recommendations for organizational anchoring.  

With Vonovia, we revised the divisional strategy in the Innovation & Business Building division and established a more binding and stringent innovation process, which also takes into account and defines the cooperation with start-ups. In addition, third-party departments are to be more closely involved both in decision-making and in the implementation of proof of concepts and pilot projects. In particular, we have introduced concrete project management standards for this purpose in order to work together more effectively in the future on the basis of agile principles.

Both Alexander Weihe and Swen Klussmeier drew a thoroughly positive conclusion after the successful live performance: “Apart from the fact that it was an honor for me to share the virtual stage with Eric Schmidt, Bits & Pretzels 2020 offered us real added value because we were able to quickly and easily get in touch with numerous start-ups and like-minded people in the field of corporate innovation,” summed up Alexander Weihe, with a wink. 

In the days following the conference, the know-how of Rupert Schäfer, our Co-Founder and Managing Director, was also in great demand. As a Table Captain, he shared his experiences – as a founder of several companies and active angel investor – with interested start-up entrepreneurs in a virtual round. 

And also in the further supporting program, participants could get inspiration for their daily work. Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, summed up his secret for successful companies: “Hire the smartest people you can find, including people without experience.” At the same time, he warned the community, “You have to keep focus on the numbers – it’s the same in business as during a pandemic: Eventually, it will get better.” On a different stage, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, advocated for female entrepreneurs and emphasized that it is never too late to get involved in entrepreneurship, even at an advanced stage of a career. And those who thought they had already learned all the lessons in life should think of Dirk Nowitzki and how he trained to make the “perfect shot” over several days and months, and perhaps is still perfecting it today. His motto: “Never be satisfied, and always try to improve!”

Jan-Henning Jestädt also draws a thoroughly positive conclusion: “It was a great honor to be part of Bits & Pretzels in its third year as well. Despite the alternative setup of a purely virtual conference, it was, as always, a great opportunity to bring founders and established companies together. The fact that we were able to share the live stage with our customers ALDI Nord and Vonovia this year was definitely a very special highlight.”

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