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These German start-ups will make your life easier

They offer solutions for a greener future and make money in doing so. The government should reduce red tape and write them checks.

25. Oktober 2017  7 Minuten

Klicke hier für die deutsche Version

Ever get an unsettling feeling when you open your fridge and hear its rhythmic hum?

When you hail a taxi, does your mind wander much beyond the question of how quickly it will take you where you want to go?

When you’re driving around the city looking for a parking space, frustration increasing by the second, do you ever think to yourself – there must be a better way?

These might seem like odd questions, but to the innovators behind some of Germany’s greenest start-ups, The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a start-up as »a fledgling business enterprise« but the term has come to encompass more than simply that. Typically founded within the previous few years, Forbes magazine defines start-ups as newly formed entities which aim to solve certain problems and which are scaled to grow rapidly. The term continues to prompt much debate in its own right. of which dozens have sprung up in recent years, they are elementary. To give an idea of the spectrum of ideas being turned into businesses: There are young German firms building wireless superchargers for electric cars and companies that can convert electricity which is not needed at the time into usable, renewable gas. There’s a Berlin start-up that enables city dwellers to become balcony beekeepers by building mini apiaries and one that builds portable solar lamps for corners of the world where electricity is still not available. Indeed, there’s a particular wealth of German start-ups making significant breakthroughs in the field of solar energy. There’s even a small start-up, founded earlier this year, which specializes exclusively in the utilization of drones and sensors for the inspection of hard-to-access solar panel sites. Whether it’s a fridge for hot countries that runs without electricity, car-sharing taken to the next level or an app that will spare you hours of looking for a parking space – they own it.

The ideas are flowing.While the ideas are flowing in multiple areas, the scene is not as well structured, inter-connected, financially sound or thriving as it could be. Yet, plenty of new, eco-friendly start-ups are already making an impact – and may do so even more within the future. Given they receive the support they need.

But to understand what it is they need, it helps to know what they want to achieve. We profile 3 of the most exciting currently operating in Germany to look at what they have done so far – and take a look at where they might go.

CleverShuttle – sharing is caring

Many people are always going in the same direction, yet they never share. That makes no sense in a big city. In our opinion, it’s ethically wrong to sit down and drive in a big engine vehicle and to sit alone in a car where space on the street is very valuable and already at a premium – it makes no sense. – Bruno Ginnuth

Germany’s highly publicized energiewende targets are laudable but also Climate Action Plan 2050 (2016) highly ambitious. Currently, Germany is on the verge of Even Germany’s Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks said on October 11, 2017, that Germany is on the verge of failing (German) failing to achieve their goals – unless politics, economics and society initiate a real paradigm shift. Such an undertaking requires not just dedicated governance but a major national collective effort. That’s the kind of thinking that influenced Website of CleverShuttle CleverShuttle founder and CEO, Bruno Ginnuth, when he created an eco-friendly door-to-door driving service along with three friends in 2014 that aims to revolutionize the way people travel around a city towards a more sustainable model.

The concept is that passengers book a ride, much like a taxi service, to their chosen destination and using pooling technology, passengers travelling in the same direction at the same time are grouped together and picked up. That in itself is eco-friendly while another significant aspect is that CleverShuttle uses only electric, hydrogen or plug-in vehicles. The EV element aside, it’s an idea not that far away from Germany’s much loved Mitfahrgelegenheit Since the rise of the internet, the idea of Mitfahrgelegenheit in Germany is again becoming more and more popular. The concept: »I drive from A to B and give you a ride for amount X.« This idea is so »German« that there exists no English translation – yet. lift system of a slightly earlier era.

The founders of CleverShuttle form left to right: Slava Tschurilin, Bruno Ginnuth and Jan Hofmann. – Quelle: CleverShuttle copyright

CleverShuttle’s model has attracted the interest of some municipal public transport systems, eager to incorporate it into their own services. Just this week, the company agreed a deal with Stadtverkehr Lübeck, the public transport service for the northern German city of Lübeck, which will soon begin providing some public transport shuttle services via CleverShuttle.

So the idea is you would open an app and book a public transport shuttle rather than wait for the bus to just come and get you. The current public transport system is generally not efficient and particularly at night time, these services could be replaced with smaller vehicles that serve on demand. – Bruno Ginnuth

Evopark – narrowing the search area

While carsharing and a wholesale transition to electric or alternative fuel vehicles are the most straightforward route to fewer emissions, German streets are still clogged with petrol and diesel cars. »A figure that is regularly cited in studies is that 30% of city traffic is ›search and park traffic‹ – people driving The International Parking Institute found that 30% of city traffic is ›search and park traffic‹ (2015) around looking to find a place to park.« says Marik Hermann, CEO of Evopark.

The thinking behind his Cologne based company is to get these cars to spend as little time on the road as possible. Evopark is a live parking app which displays parking information to users as they drive around.

With a base of 30,000 regular users established, Evopark’s system – which is based on identifying and partnering with car parks in key locations within a city – informs users of available parking spots and allows them to enter and exit the car park smoothly through recognition technology.

Focusing exclusively on off-street parking in car-parks, Several other green German start-ups provide on-street parking information – ParkHere does so using self-powered underground sensors, for example. the company, which was founded in 2014, is now in 25 cities across Germany and plans to expand to several other European countries shortly.

Coolar – fridges powered by the sun?

Transport is an obvious focus of energy transition – but refrigeration? In his new book Read this interview with the book’s author and environmentalist Paul Hawken Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, American environmentalist Paul Hawken ranks »refrigerant management« as the number one most effective solution If refrigerators were maintained and disposed better, we could – according to Hawken’s calculations – save 89.7 gigatonne of CO2-equivalents worldwide in the next 30 years. for combatting climate change.

In that respect, Coolar is an interesting example of a German start-up that has obvious potential to make a difference. Founded in 2016, their refrigeration system aims to provide sustainable refrigeration solutions for areas around the world with no or limited electricity supplies. Such refrigeration solutions are particularly important in the aftermath of natural disasters, when medicine and food need to be stored appropriately, but are also useful in remote areas with expensive or no power at all. This way, they could save lives: In developing countries, up to 75% of vaccines lose or weaken their curative effect because they are A study on the thermal stability of vaccines (2002) stored at a wrong temperature.

A nurse in Ethiopia prepares a measel vaccination. Many vaccinations do not work properly because they are not being stored correctly. – Quelle: DFID

Their refrigeration system is basically powered by warm water generated through solar energy, which can then be easily stored. Avoiding the use of moving parts, cooling fluids or lubricants, the company’s system According to the Coolar website the cooling-cycle works like this:

Evaporation
Part of the water evaporates in the evaporator due to low pressure in the system. The resulting evaporation cooling effect cools the storage compartment.

Adsorption
The adsorbent attracts vapour, binds it on its surface and frees up space in the evaporator. In that space more water evaporates, so multiplying the cooling effect.

Drying
Once the adsorbent’s surface is full of vapour, cooling temporarily pauses. In order for the process to be repeated, the adsorbent has to be dried.

Condensation
By heating the adsorbent is dried and all vapour is released from its surface. The vapour condenses and flows back into the evaporator, which completes the cycle.
is of low maintenance and environmentally friendly in production and disposal.

Still a small operation in the early stage of development, it is unclear to what extent Coolar or similar refrigeration systems will operate one day. But if it were to be implemented and function successfully on a wider scale, its eco-friendly status speaks for itself given that it requires no electricity and gives out ten times less CO2 emissions than conventional fridges. This way it might not only be a solution for remote or critical areas – but a way to provide cheap, climate-friendly cooling to billions of people living in developing countries, who are waiting to get their fair share of comfort.

Start to meet up?

While individual green start-ups in Germany such as the aforementioned trio are developing innovative concepts, the overall green start-up sector in Germany is still relatively underdeveloped, with just 14% of the recognised German start-ups being deemed to be »green«.

What’s the problem?

A 2015 study by the Green Economy Start-Up Monitor (referenced in the previous paragraph) found that while the German economy has developed a strong start-up support system – particularly in Berlin, widely seen as the European start-up capital – programmes specifically catering for firms specialising in environmental sustainability have not been adequately integrated into that system. In other words: There are not enough dedicated government funding programmes, business incubators or relevant competitions for green start-ups.

Dr. Klaus Fichter, one of the authors of the 2015 study, noted some of the unique difficulties facing green start-ups in that report:

  • They are often technology-intensive and require a long development period.
  • They often possess high levels of innovation and are situated in infrastructure-related markets that have a high degree of regulation.
  • They have to compete with powerful and established companies.

Support is increasingly there at government and local government level, both in terms of funding opportunities and in terms of more moral support but the challenge is that as soon as you start negotiations, things slow down too much. So when I would talk to government officials, I would try and advise them to remove the bureaucratic roadblocks and regulations to help everything move better. – Dr. Klaus Fichter

Things have moved on since 2015, though. The »Start Up Energy Transition«, a global initiative and award programme driven by dena, the German Energy Agency and supported by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, aims to create a more connected green start-up Website of the start-up network community in Germany and around the world.

Coolar builds fridges that use solar heat instead of electricity for their cooling mechanism. This makes them especially handy for developing countries. – Quelle: Coolar copyright

»Connecting« a strand of the German economy as new, diversified, unknown and complex as the green start-up sector will obviously take time. The German development bank KfW is the world’s biggest clean tech lender.But the potential for its development is obvious: Money is available for clean tech in Germany, and lots of it. A 2015 study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that up to the end of 2014, the German development bank KfW was the world’s biggest clean tech lender, giving out loans totalling Energy Transition writes on the German energiewende (2016) €24 billion for clean energy projects.

Naturally, not much of that money found its way specifically into the green start-up sector in Germany. But the persuasive force of the energiewende culture means that a well-connected German green start-up scene, backed by strong political support, has the potential to become a magnet for capital – which can in turn prompt the growth necessary for small green start-ups to become major players.

Profitability has been a problem, though. A 2016 MIT study found that, compared with start-ups in the software and medical fields, clean tech start-ups in the US performed very poorly from a financial perspective in the period 2006–2011, with over 90% failing to The Energy Initiative of the MIT on Clean Energy Innovation (2016) return a profit to investors.

That kind of figure is hardly going to fill traditionally cautious German business leaders with enthusiasm about the sector, but there are tentative signs that the investment climate for smaller, clean tech innovators is improving. More and more green start-ups are partnering with established industry leaders, well aware of their need to embrace greener business models.

Evopark: Track a free parking spot via app. – Quelle: Evopark copyright
Evopark, the one that is trying to guide you to the next free parking spot, have arrangements with Porsche, Mercedes and AXA Insurance for example. Those companies promote the app to their own employees while just this week, Solarkiosk, who build scalable solar-powered shop-modules for developing countries, announced a climate change partnership with insurance giant Munich RE.

City by city, person by person

It’s difficult to take a picture of a moving object, and the speed, with which Germany’s green start-up scene is evolving, complicates it to make definitive assessments on its overall well-being. Yet it is clear, that a more organized, inter-connected collective structure, combined with a more refined governmental approach could provide the green start-up sector with what it needs: the extra time, support and resources. So it can attract the kind of funding required to become viable and ideally, profitable.

As is evident to anyone taking even a cursory glance at the German green start-up scene, it’s blossom-time in terms of innovation; ideas will continue to bloom. They just need a little fertilizer every now and then.

This article is part of the project »The solutions lie in Germany«. In the project, »Global Ideas« by the Deutsche Welle and Perspective Daily present solutions to climate change within 3 steps, heading towards the 23. climate change conference in Bonn in November 2017.

Step 1: »Wärmewende in Deutschland – Diese Heizung kannst du guten Gewissens voll aufdrehen« on Perspective Daily and »Smart tech propels Germany’s switch to renewables« on Global Ideas.

Step 2: »Green start-up scene – These German Start-ups will make your life easier« on Perspective Daily and »Engineering the climate — is it a good idea?« on Global Ideas.

Step 3: »Meat replacement products – Time to butcher these 5 myths about fake meat« on Perspective Daily and »Germany, land of blooming soy fields?« on Global Ideas.

Quelle: Deutsche Welle copyright

Titelbild: Philippe Put -

von Arthur Sullivan 

Arthur Sullivan ist Wirtschafts- und Umweltjournalist für die Deutsche Welle. Für 10 Jahre arbeitete er als Reporter in Irland und berichtete über alle möglichen Themen von Sport bis Politik, heute lebt und arbeitet er in Berlin.

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