„It’s who the founders are as people that counts”

Jens Lapinski from the METRO Techstars Accelerator supports startups, which develop digital facilitations for restaurateurs, to market-ready young companies.

TEXT: Hans Gäng BILD: Alejandra Loreto


ens Lapinski knows he is exactly in the right place. In Berlin, on the fourth floor in the side wing of a former city council building, where Erich Honecker once resided and Gerhard Schröder held office from 1999 to 2001.
„It is a historic place with an alternating and exciting history. Now it serves as a training ground for creative, unconventional startups. What a symbol for the new Berlin“, he says. No doubt, 50 percent of the German startups are in Berlin.

It is a demanding task for startups, to develop solutions, which match their needs and simplify their life.

The postdoc biotechnologist has his own experience in entrepreneurship and previously worked in London for the global accelerator-network Techstars. He happily followed the call to Berlin. „The city with a motivation for fundamental change is much closer to Silicon Valley than Paris or London“, he says as he rates the atmosphere of the city.

What exactly happens in the accelerator programme? Who is the target market, if the accelerator is initiated by the commercial enterprise METRO? Jens Lapinski´s task within the historical DDR walls is to develop the digital future of the restaurant industry. This means, to find the right startups amongst the thousands of worldwide incorporations, and to nurture and turn those into companies, who have really good ideas for a special community: the chefs, restaurateurs and caterers of this world.

„These are people, who work 80 hours per week in the real world, hence traditional style.“ It is a demanding task for startups, to develop solutions, which match their needs and simplify their life. „Chefs are not computer programmers“, says Lapinski. Yet the global business community of restaurateurs has big potential. To find people, who can tap into that potenital, is Jens Lapinski´s responsability.

„So not only in Neukölln and in Prenzlauerberg. Two indispensable elements in my professional life: Skype and Tegel.“ For Lapinski and his eleven employees they are imperative to get to work.

Whoever thinks, entrepreneurial investors sit around sullen and dull long numbers of business plans and only asses from a financial point of view – is wrong. Jens Lapinski looks at people. He listens to founders. Everyday over Skype or in person, at meetings or the growing number of startup events. „The CEOs, the personality of the founder, that is the crucial factor.“

Alongside Techstars comes a worldwide network of mentors. Jens Lapinski can call 150 global and established founders and restaurateurs anytime and ask for their advice. Power-Networking is his world.

Approximately 20’000 startups apply to the 15 worldwide Techstars locations. In five years the number is expected to reach over one hundred thousand. A gigantic number for the global startup frenzy. „The knowledge to recognize, which startups can be turned into real companies and which concepts can be made market-ready is what differentiates Techstars“, summarizes Lapinski.

Firstly, there is the recruiting, the contacting and the application of the startups. The subsequent selection is hard. It is up to Lapinski and his team to decide according with help of clearly defined clear criteria and best knowledge. In 2016 more than 600 startups applied. Only 20 were selected.

An intensive time lies ahead of the winners. They run through work models for their business development. With Techstars they get to shape good ideas into viable and scalable young companies in all branches of technology around the world. Elements include: strategic positioning, analysing the market maturity of the product, and incorporating the systematic feedback of the market.

All of which serves for the final fundraising of the supported startups – the acquisition of real money. Because that‘s what it‘s all about. „Money – is what the startups are missing. Quite simply“, says Lapinski. „You start without a budget. And need to grow out of it.“ Many therefore happily accept direct contribution of up to 120.000 Euros in the form of equity from METRO Techstars.

Techstars and METRO entered a partnership in fall of 2015. One of the startups, was revamped and helped to get market access, is „Frag Paul“ – a starting point for all services around the complex subject of personnel planning and management in the restaurant industry.

What does a cooperation between a successful global trading group and „tech people“ look like – why and how does it work together? Jens Lapinski is sure: „It also depends on the CEO.“ This includes the willingness to accept own concepts not as final truths, but as hypotheses to be tested in practice. This also applied to the partnership with Techstars. „We had to find out how we would best cooperate,“ Lapinski says.

METRO is a huge distributor for the digtal startups with solutions for the restaurant industry. „How should a startup ever acces a fragmented market with millions of customers with the related large market entry costs?”, asks Lapinski.

In addition to the hundreds of point of sales in METRO markets worldwide addition, the successful sales force, which has positioned itself as one of the strongest commercial companies – is promising. But so far, it has been strongly analogue. „Different rules apply to acquiring new business in the restaurant industry”, Lapinski analyses. The distribution of the digital solutions from the startups is outsourced to the digital unit of METRO. Part of the strategy is the “Pilot” project with test customers. „With the help and support from METRO, they can try out digital products with the help and support from METRO.”

For the next accelerator round, it still stands: „We want to help the restaurateurs focus on their strengs in the kitchen and behind the counter.” Jens Lapinski is certain that the startups will contribute new digital ideas to the future of the independent restaurant industry.