Start-up life begins in the end

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The ICM Accelerator Early Ride program came to a successful conclusion with the Demo Day. For twelve weeks, seven teams, supported by experienced coaches and mentors, developed their ideas into viable business models. Three of them won prizes during the pitch session. For the first-placed team, the prize money could well serve as the basis for the start-up capital to take the first steps as a real start-up.

If you want to start a business, you need money. And that even before you have sold the first product or acquired the first customer. It costs 25,000 euros to set up a GmbH, and half of the required share capital must be deposited when the company is registered. That is still a lot of money for the team behind ZeNo Battery Testing, Yunying Zeng and Marcel Nöller, who have only just worked out the technical details of their idea at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). On February 1, their capital stock grew by 3,000 euros, as the two won the pitch session at the Demo Day of the ICM Early Ride program. The winning team embodies a core objective of the ICM Accelerator: to awaken the entrepreneurial spirit of young scientists so that they can turn their innovative ideas into successful research projects or start-ups.

Vector and RA Consulting donate a total of 6,000 euros in prize money

The jury took into account the early development phase before the actual founding of the company, and other criteria included the content and prospects of success, explained jury member Dr. Matthias Traub, Head of Embedded Software and Systems at project sponsor Vector. Three points that ZeNo Battery Testing fulfills almost perfectly. Yunying Zeng and Marcel Nöller both still work at the IPEK - Institute for Product Development at KIT. Their test system uses a battery cell replacement model (BEM) instead of a real battery cell, helping to make the development of modern mobility applications more sustainable and faster.  For small and medium-sized companies, BEMs are a cheaper alternative to expensive tests with real battery cells. However, Zeng and Nöller have not yet founded a company. "Behind ZeNo are two very clever minds with a very well thought-out idea that has great potential - they convinced us of this with their pitch," said jury member Hannah Rupalla, Head of HR & Organizational Development at the second project sponsor RA Consulting.

ICM Early Ride Programm Demo_Day Erster Platz ZeNo
The founding team of ZeNo Battery Testing led by Yunying Zeng and Marcel Nöller (center from left) delivered the best presentation at the Early Ride Program Demo Day. First place came with prize money of 3,000 euros. The prize was presented by Hannah Rupalla (first from left), representative of the program sponsor RA Consulting, Dr. Matthias Traub, representative of the program sponsor Vector, and Dr. Sandra Kaufmann-Weiß, Managing Director of the Innovation Campus Mobility of the Future. © ICM/Benjamin Büchner

The winners were surprised by their performance. "We already knew that our presentation was very good, but the other teams were also strong," says Yunying Zeng. They were all the more delighted when they received the first prize from Hannah Rupalla and Matthias Traub. The 3,000 euros were donated by RA Consulting and Vector - as was the prize money for the second and third-placed teams. "It's quite possible that we'll use the money for the start-up budget," Marcel Nöller considers.

ICM Early Ride Programm Demo_Day Zweiter Platz Litona
Sebastian Büchele's Litona GmbH (second from left) took second place at the Early Ride Program Demo Day during the pitch session. This comes with prize money of 2,000 euros. © ICM/Benjamin Büchner

The judges assessed the seven teams based on criteria such as content, prospects of success, maturity of the concept, unique selling point and presentation. The decision was not easy for the jury, which included Hanna Rupalla, Dr. Matthias Traub, Larissa Eger from Neo Cargo and Tim Gegg from Mätch VC. Traub said during the award ceremony that he was going home motivated today because we had seen a lot of cool ideas here. In addition to ZeNo, two other teams received awards. Litona GmbH received 2,000 euros as runner-up. Its founders, Sebastian Büchele and Tom Bötticher, have developed a revolutionary positive electrode material for sodium-ion batteries. They want to and can already supply this to research institutes and companies that can use it to drive forward the further development of sustainable and resource-saving battery technologies. In the long term, Litona plans to enter into cell production itself. BEHtec received 1,000 euros for third place. The team led by Mathias Engelfried, Klaus Heudorfer and Dominique Bergmann from the Institute of Aircraft Design (IFB) at the University of Stuttgart is developing a sustainable lightweight construction material made from flax fibers and biopolymer to industrial maturity as part of the ICM project "NaturStoff".

ICM Early Ride Programm Demo_Day Dritter Platz BEHtec
1,000 was the prize money for third place, which went to the BEHTec team of Dominique Bergmann, Mathias Engelfried and Klaus Heudorfer (center from left to right). © ICM/Benjamin Büchner

The Demo Day also marks the end of the ICM Accelerator, which consisted of an intrapreneurship module and the entrepreneurship module. The first module is intended to promote entrepreneurial thinking within the scientific community, while the second enables young start-up projects from Baden-Württemberg to further develop their approaches into viable business models. In the first overall run, some scientists even took part in both modules. "It is a great success for the ICM that several teams were able to develop a promising business case from an excellent scientific approach over the course of the program," explains Dr. Sandra Kaufmann-Weiß, Managing Director of the ICM. The Accelerator therefore not only promotes the development of existing start-ups such as On Your Route GmbH or Litona GmbH, but also initiates successful spin-offs. A real transfer accelerator that will enter the next round in 2024 with a new name and a different format.


Benjamin Büchner

Editorial and public relations, InnovationsCampus Future Mobility

E-Mail: medien(at)