In the future, Körber’s claim to market leadership through technology leadership will be based on three factors: the successful interaction between machines and production systems, the use of customized operational software, and the development of industrial IoT and digitization solutions. A crucial aspect of this strategy is a well-functioning, flexible ecosystem that the Körber Group is expanding and reinforcing for and with its customers.
Dr. Hartmut Ruh, Head of Corporate Development at Körber, is well aware of the importance of such an ecosystem. That’s why he and his team are searching the market for partners, including start-ups, that would fit in well with the Group. “We want to learn about innovative and disruptive technologies and build up contacts with the teams that are developing them,” he says. “We’re doing this so that we can strategically invest in areas that are already important for us and our Business Areas or will certainly become important in the future. These areas include robotics, sensor technology, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.”
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Dr. Hartmut Ruh, Head of Corporate Development at Körber AG
Start-ups are playing an important role in the construction of the Körber ecosystem. In the category of traditional acquisitions, the Group’s investments aim to completely take over a company and its technology from the very start. That has been the case with Connyun, for example. Körber bought this German start-up in 2018 and integrated it into its Business Area Körber Digital. “We immediately realized that Körber’s existing core expertise would be perfectly complemented by the expertise of the new team,” says Ruh.
By contrast, Körber’s equity investments in start-ups are primarily aimed at ensuring that both sides learn with and from each other very quickly and intensely. That way, each side offers what the other one is seeking. “Start-ups in particular give us access to new technologies, business models, and markets, as well as speed and new ideas,” says Ruh. “We contribute many years of valuable industrial and sector experience to our cooperation.”
Many of the start-ups that Hartmut Ruh and his team are looking at have developed fascinating solutions but are not always relevant to Körber’s Business Areas at first glance. However, that can change quickly, because start-ups are very close to the market and rapidly adapt themselves to constantly changing requirements. One good example of that is the Munich-based robotics start-up Magazino, in which Körber has invested since the beginning of 2018. “When we first had Magazino on our radar years ago, they were still building commissioning robots for pharmacies,” Ruh explains. Today Magazino is supplying gigantic retailers such as Zalando and Fiege with intralogistics robots that move around in warehouses autonomously. It is also a strategic partner of the Group’s Business Area Logistics Systems.
Last year Magazino received The Spark – The German Digital Prize for its new robotics operating system Acros. This cloud-based software enables robots to develop a “shared” intelligence inside a warehouse. The robots learn from the experiences of their “colleagues” and can react much faster and more appropriately in the network to unfamiliar and changing situations.
The example of Magazino illustrates the Körber Group’s investment strategy, whose main goal is to gain access to new technologies, solutions, and business models in this way. “Of course the expected long-term return is important for us, just as it is for a traditional venture capital investor,” Ruh explains. “So when we evaluate the investments that we make in close cooperation with our colleagues from the Business Areas, we look for companies or start-ups that have a clear unique selling point, a good management team, and sustainable market potential.”
Investors who want to get to know promising start-ups and find out about investment opportunities at the right moment need one thing most of all: the right contacts in the start-up scene. That’s why Körber has invested in funds such as the High-Tech Gründerfonds (HTGF) and, in 2018, the Next Logistics Accelerator (NLA). HTGF is the biggest venture capital investor in technology companies in Germany. NLA, which is more focused on specific areas, guided the first two groups of logistics start-ups through its six-month program last year. “Among other things, we are members of the Advisory Board of NLA, and so we’re getting to know the start-ups and their business models in detail at an early stage,” says Ruh. “We’re also supporting the start-ups in areas where we have a great deal of expertise.”
All of these processes are creating a valuable future-oriented network that is systematically reinforcing Körber’s innovative strength. Ruh is convinced that the key to future success lies in fast, flexible, and comprehensive ecosystems of this kind. The positive experiences he has had in his cooperation with start-ups encourage him to press ahead with this investment strategy and to make it even more international — an approach that also includes paying attention to Asia and North America.