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Mr Schleicher, you have been a member of the S-UBG Group’s Management Board since January 2021. Were you already involved with the company before that?

Ansgar Schleicher (AS): I have been working closely with the S-UBG Group since 2012. With DSA Invest (note: Mr Schleicher was previously Managing Director there), we were private investors in the S-UBG Group’s early-stage funds and also invested parallel to the S-UBG Group in many cases. This has resulted in very profitable co-operations that have advanced our common investments. It was this cooperation and the competence of the team, which I was familiar with as a result, that sparked my interest in moving to the S-UBG Group.

What particularly attracts you to your new position?

AS: I’m attracted to entrepreneurship, Assisting businesses in succession, identifying and developing young companies, and offering my expertise is a very exciting task. With my extensive experience as a managing director in the medium-sized business sector, my many years of management experience and my market knowledge and leadership skills, I can support both long-established medium-sized companies and young start-ups from the region to further develop their business model and become more successful. As I am not a businessman, but a studied computer scientist, I have a different perspective on the business – analysing a company more in terms of product, business model and market. When this approach is combined with the commercial and legal expertise and many years of private equity experience of my colleagues, a very holistic picture of the company emerges. Board colleague Bernhard Kugel and I want to further expand this more interdisciplinary approach in the future.

What connects you to the Aachen region?

AS: I was born in Krefeld and then studied computer science in Aachen, where I also completed my doctorate. I moved to industry at the end of 2001. Year 2000 problem (The Y2K problem) had been solved, the dotcom bubble had burst and the attack on the World Trade Centre had shaken the world. Not a good time for applicants in the IT sector. Nevertheless, I was lucky: I was allowed to join DSA in Aachen as a software developer and immediately had the prospect of taking over a department there. In the end, it turned into 18 years of intensive collaboration, half of which I spent as Managing Director. During this time, I also worked a lot internationally, but my roots have always remained in Aachen.  I also still have a lot in common with RWTH Aachen University, where I am involved as a lecturer in the Master’s degree programmes in computer science and electrical engineering and help schools to set up attractive STEM programmes to get young people interested in technology at an early age.

What is special about S-UBG as an investment company?

AS: We are a sparring partner for our portfolio companies and offer them support that goes far beyond capital and contracts. This certainly also has to do with our geographical proximity. We are always no more than an hour’s drive away from our partner companies. We take the advantage of this proximity and can therefore reflect on the strategies together with the partner companies, provide creative impulses and contribute a great deal of entrepreneurial experience. This regional proximity also makes it clear that we want to make companies here successful. This is very important for many medium-sized companies for which we provide succession support. And it is also a profit for our start-ups, as we can provide very intensive support locally and at the same time have an excellent international network and practically act as an accelerator. Our investment managers identify strongly with the partner companies that they have been supporting for many years. This enables a constructive exchange with their management.

How is S-UBG supporting its portfolio companies during the coronavirus crisis?

AS: Back in spring 2020, we set up an internal emergency aid package with short-term funds to help partner companies that need support quickly. Of course, we always have our finger on the pulse of available public aid and can advise our partner companies competently and quickly. In the medium term, we will also make offers to replace the coronavirus aid provided by the federal government through equity restructuring to restore the freedom for entrepreneurial activity. In some cases, the public coronavirus aid has very strict conditions. Overall, however, we have found that our partner companies have come through the crisis quite well so far. However, the crisis has also shown that it is very helpful to have a financially strong investor on board. However, I will be happy in every respect when things return to normal soon.

What ideas do you have to make the location of Aachen even more attractive for businesses in the future?

AS: We are co-initiators (co-founder) of an initiative for regional city marketing and want to position Aachen even more strongly as a location for startups. For a flourishing ecosystem of young and established companies, it is essential to consolidate all important information in one place and build a strong network.

Due to the proximity to the many high-quality research and educational institutions, Aachen already has a strong startup culture, and was recently named one of the best small cities in the world to start a business. We now want to ensure that young teams don’t just start here because they already live here, but also that teams from other regions recognize that we have a lot to offer here.

With our efforts, we are of course not only focusing on Aachen but also keeping an eye on the Niederrhein region. We want to contribute our part to further advancing the ‘Silicon Rhineland’. There are already very promising initiatives in many cities in the Niederrhein region, which we actively support.

What are the further plans for the TechVision Fund I, which finances start-up projects in the Aachen and Niederrhine region?

AS: The plan is to further increase the fund volume of the TechVision Fund – fortunately, the pleasing deal flow makes this necessary! We want our financing programme to be permanently available for start-ups in the region. Another goal is to become even closer to our founders with our young and committed team. We also want to be able to use our funds to give our partner companies a longer-term perspective. With the TechVision Fund, we can now finance several rounds and also invest EUR 5 million in a start-up. This makes it easier for a start-up to become visible on the market. We are also constantly expanding our network with other funds and investors so that support is always possible until the exit.

What characteristics do you think founders need to have?

AS: Founders definitely need to think outside the box if they want to develop disruptive technologies. The big innovations in the recent past have mostly been interdisciplinary – a good mix of skills and, of course, persistence, adaptability and resilience are qualities that make a successful start-up.

 Mr Schleicher, which trends do you think companies have to deal with in particular today?

AS: That is a very complex question and the answer also depends heavily on the individual company. Basically, every company will have to address the issue of sustainability for several reasons: On the one hand, because millenials as employees are demanding this, and on the other hand because the energy transition and decarbonisation will otherwise jeopardise (threaten)competitiveness. However, it is also important to constantly keep an eye on technological change. Digitalisation has many faces: production companies are faced with the end-to-end networking of their production facilities, while others have to deal with the digitalisation of their entire business model or find their way in a new platform economy. AI – even if it is currently still somewhat overrated as a technology – will find its way into many areas and automate routine activities or be integrated into intelligent assistants. Robotics, additive manufacturing, new mobility, smart building – there are many technological trends that can have a potentially disruptive impact on a company. Here, too, we are a competent partner, bringing SMEs and start-ups together, developing business models further and keeping a constant eye on the future viability of our partner companies.