„I look forward finding, supporting and developing companies from the region”
Mr. Schleicher, you have been a board member of the S-UBG Group since January 2021. Have you been associated with the company before?
Ansgar Schleicher (AS): I’ve been working closely with the S-UBG Group since 2012. With DSA Invest (note: Mr. Schleicher was previously managing director of this company), we were a private investor in the venture fund of the S-UBG Group, and in mulitple cases we also investedin parallel with S-UBG. This resulted in very profitable collaborations that have advanced our joint investments. It was this cooperation and the team’s expertise that sparked my interest in switching to the S-UBG Group.
What do you particularly like about your new position?
AS: Entrepreneurship excites me. Looking for companies in succession, finding and developing young companies and supporting them with my experience is a fascinating task. With my many years of management experience as managing director of a mid-sized company and my market knowledge and leadership skills, I can support both long-established mid-sized companies and young start-ups in the region to advance their business model and be more successful. Since I’m not a business economist, but a trained IT specialist, I have a different perspective on business – I tend to analyze a company based on its product, business model and market. When this approach meets the commercial and legal expertise and many years of private equity experience of my colleagues, a very holistic picture of the company emerges. My board colleague Bernhard Kugel and I want to expand this interdisciplinary approach in the future.
What do you have in common with the Aachen region?
AS: I was born in Krefeld, then studied computer science in Aachen and also did my doctorate there. At the end of 2001 I was due to switch to an industry job. The year 2000 problem was solved, the dot-com bubble burst and the attack on the World Trade Center shook the world. Not a good time for applicants in the IT industry. Nevertheless, I was lucky: I was hired by DSA in Aachen as a software developer and immediately had the prospect of taking over responsibility for an engineering department. In the end, it turned into 18 years of intensive collaboration, half of them as managing director. During this time I also worked a lot internationally, but my roots have always remained in Aachen. I am still very connected with my university RWTH, where I offer lectures in the master’s degree courses in computer science and electrical engineering. I also help local schools to set up attractive MINT programs to get young people excited about technology at an early stage.
What is special about the S-UBG as a private-equity company?
AS: We are sparring partners for our portfolio companies and offer support that goes far beyond capital and contracts. Our regional proximity is an enabler for intense cooperation. We are no more than an hour’s drive away from any of our portfolio companies. We use this proximity to jointly reflect on the strategies, provide creative impulses and bring in a lot of entrepreneurial experience. This regionality also manifests that we want to make companies successful here. This is a very important aspect for many mid-sized companies in succession. And this is also a benefit for our start-ups, as we can provide very intensive support locally, and at the same time have excellent international networks and act as an accelerator to international money and markets. Our investment managers identify strongly with the partner companies they are in charge of. This enables a constructive eye-level exchange with their respective management.
How is S-UBG supporting its portfolio companies during the Corona crisis?
AS: As early as spring 2020, we put together an internal emergency aid package with short-term funds to help partner companies that need support quickly. Of course, we always keep up to date on the availability of public corona aid funds and can advise our partner companies competently and quickly. In the mid-term, we will offer the replacement of public corona aid provided by the federal government through an equity restructuring in order to restore the entrepreneurial freedom of company owners, as the public aid funds sometimes have quite tight conditions. Overall, however, we are lucky to say that our partner companies have come through the crisis pretty well so far. But the crisis also shows that it is very helpful to have a financially strong investor on board. Nevertheless, I am happy in every respect when matters return to normal soon.
What ideas do you have to make Aachen even more attractive for companies in the future?
AS: We are co-initiators of an initiative for regional city marketing and would like to position Aachen even more strongly as a start-up location. For a flourishing ecosystem of young and established companies, it is essential to bundle all important information in one place and to build a strong network.Due to the proximity to the many top-class research and educational institutions, we already have a strong start-up culture in Aachen and were only recently named one of the best small cities in the world to start up a business. We now want to ensure that young teams not only set up here because they live here anyway, but that teams from other regions also recognize that we have a lot to offer.With our endeavors we are not only concentrating on Aachen, but also keep an eye on the complete Lower Rhineland. We would like to contribute to further advance the ‘Silicon Rhineland’. There are already very promising initiatives in many cities in this region that we actively support.
What are the further plans for TechVision Fund I, which is used to finance start-up projects in the Aachen and Lower Rhine region?
AS: The plan is to further increase the volume of the TechVision Fund – fortunately, the good deal flow makes this necessary! We want our financing offer for startups in the region to be permanently available. Another goal is to become even more approachable to our founders with our young and committed team. We also want to be able to give the partner companies a longer perspective with our resources. We can now finance several rounds with the TechVision Fund and also invest up to EUR 5 million into one start-up. This makes it easier for a start-up to become visible in the market. We are also constantly expanding our network with other funds and investors, so that we are able to support the start-up until it reaches its desired Exit.
In your opinion, what qualities do founders need to bring along?
AS: Founders definitely have to think outside the box if they want to develop disruptive technologies: The major innovations in the recent past are mostly the result of interdisciplinary cooperation. A good mix of skills, perseverance, adaptability and resilience are characteristics that make a successful start-up team.
Mr. Schleicher, which trends do you think companies have to deal with today?
AS: That is a very complex question and the answer also depends a lot on the individual company. In principle, every company will have to face sustainability topics for several reasons: on the one hand, because millennials as employees demand it, on the other hand because the energy transition and decarbonisation trend would otherwise endanger competitiveness. But it is also important to keep an eye on technological change. Digitization has many faces: Production companies face the end-to-end networking of its production facilities, others have to face the digitization of their entire business model or find their way around a new platform economy. AI – even if currently somewhat overrated as a technology – is finding its way into many areas and automating routine activities or integrating them into intelligent assistants. Robotics, additive manufacturing, new mobility, smart building – there is a multitude of technological trends that can potentially have disruptive effects on a company. Here, too, we are a competent partner, match mid-sized companies and start-ups, advance business models and continuously monitor our partner companies’ future viability.
S-UBG Executive Board Team f. l.: Bernhard Kugel & Dr. Ansgar Schleicher