Although agility should advantage innovation at independent small and medium-sized businesses against their bigger rivals, they can’t match the technology resources or scalability that big national and global competitors command.
Germany’s Metro Group, which supplies goods and services to about 1.5 million restaurants, cafes and independent businesses in Western Europe alone, is innovating to level that playing field.
A few weeks ago, it hosted its first Demo Day in Berlin, at which it debuted to investors a first batch of 11 tech startups from its new accelerator program.
“The accelerator is for the startups and our customers, not us.”
Innovating digital tools for its customers might seem like a roundabout way to improve its business, but Zumdieck explained that Metro’s average customer was a small business owner who can’t invest as much, or as quickly, as its larger competition. Giving flight to startups that could help them succeed should translate into better, more sustainable customer relationships for Metro.
Getting to the Demo Day on January 28 required a lot of engagement with the marketplace first.
“We received hundreds of applications from startups last summer, really addressing almost every aspect of back and front-office work,” Zumdieck said. “We picked 11 from that pool, and then 40 Metro executives got to work with them, some as mentors, while others provided domain and/or geographic market expertise.”
The engagement went further, as Metro shared relevant data with the startups, conducted robust surveying on their behalf, shared ideas in marketing materials sent to customers, and took them along on actual sales visits and industry fairs to test their ideas.
The startups that presented at Demo Day included Zenchef, a French company that provides a booking and customer engagement platform for restaurants, Poshpacker, a U.S. booking site where travelers can easily and affordably book creative hotels, hostels or apartments around the world, and Flowtify, a German food quality and safety management app for restaurateurs and restaurants.
Four hundred investors, mentors and business angels attended the founders’ presentations, witnessing first successes and offering opportunities for their next investment rounds. All startups got new business and investor contacts thanks to Metro’s vast network.
“Our startups are launching stand-alone solutions that tackle specific problems, not large integrated solutions that take long to develop and are complex to deploy,” according to Zumdieck. “The potential for each of the startups is to finance and grow their businesses independently from Metro, building their business, working with their own as well as Metro’s customers.”
“Their wins will be ours, too.”