Hofmann says a start-up's proposal can be approved in three weeks(Photo: Claus Dick)

For big automotive players, cooperation with startups is becoming more important  than ever before. Large carmakers need the creative enterprise of young companies, if they want to develop new solutions and services in today’s fast-moving digital environment. Volkswagen is no exception. In a mini-interview with automotiveIT, VW Group CIO Martin Hofmann talks about his company’s data labs, the need to accelerate processes and Germany’s possibilities as a location for start-ups.

automotiveIT: Mr Hofmann, how important is cooperation with start-ups in Volkswagen’s IT and digitization strategy?Hofmann: Cooperation with start-ups is very important for us and it’s a win-win for both sides. We offer young companies unique opportunities to experiment with future-oriented solutions that have a direct connection to the real world. And we learn from the approach and creativity of start-up company founders. This way our labs in Munich and Berlin have developed into realthink tanks. In our labs, start-ups work with VW experts, technology partners and universities in a unique environment ”“ as partners in mixed teams, extremely creative, adventuresome and fast.

How can a big company such as Volkswagen make sure that the agile and creative spirit of a start-up doesn’t disappear within the complex structure of the corporation?We demonstrate in our labs that Volkswagen and start-ups can work together well. We’ve also put together a team made up of experts from the sales side, IT, data protection, legal and purchasing that does a very fast evaluation when we identify an interesting start-up. We call this process “Fast Track” and interpret the name quite literally: Once we receive a concrete product proposal, it shouldn’t take more than three weeks before all the initial decisions have been made and the real work can start. That’s what start-ups need.

Because of all the rules and regulations here, Germany is seen as relatively unfriendly toward start-ups. What needs to be done to catch up with less risk-averse countries such as the US?In the US, especially in Silicon Valley, it’s correct that there are many more startups than in Germany. But here too ”“ and in Europe ”“ there are technologically superb start-up companies. There are many reasons for this. For one, there is a less pronounced start-up culture in Germany. Also, there’s not enough support for start-ups here. You can lament this, but you can also try to take matters into your own hands. And that’s exactly what we are doing.