Winners of the 2015 SSF – Volkswagen Business Innovation Challenge announced

A new concept addressing vehicle safety and security and how it’s effect on the insurance premium for the owner has earned three SBE students—Saskia Pluester, Niels van Dooren and Martin Wetzel—internships at Volkswagen Group: the top prize for the 2015 Volkswagen Group Business Innovation Challenge.

Earlier this year, the Volkswagen Group in Wolfsburg, Germany, in cooperation with the Service Science Factory, challenged students of the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics to identify new business models addressing current trends and challenges faced by automotive companies.

Participants in the Business Innovation Challenge worked eighteen weeks to prepare a business plan for an innovative mobility service, which they presented to senior executives at the Volkswagen Group headquarters in Wolfsburg on 29 June.

“We challenged the students to challenge us”
“Everybody talks about share economy and the increasing demand for innovative mobility,” says Felix Scharf, Business Innovation Manager at Volkswagen Group Research. “There seems to be a great shift towards more sharing, co-owning and on-demand mobility. If that’s the case, we challenged the students to challenge us, by creating new business models and suitable concepts.”

At the start of the competition, there were 30 students divided into 14 teams. In April, Felix Scharf and Daniel Paluch from Volkswagen Group Business Innovation visited SBE to review each team’s concept and presentation, at which point eight teams to continue in a final competition were selected.

The finals took place at the Wolfsburg headquarters. During the process, coaching and mentoring was provided to the students in order to help them attune and mature their concepts and presentations.

The finalists

The finalists

Back in April, Scharf shared with Talkin’Business what characteristics he would look for in a winning presentation: “Both, idea and concept have to be elaborated, thoroughly developed and fit the brand,” he said.

“And,” he continued, “it has to have a sustainable element and impact. Yet consider all business requirements. Therefore, the overall impression and result should convince to win the challenge. Even if an idea by itself is not the strongest, but the way it is presented and the method used to build the business plan are really outstanding, may determine the winning team.”

The idea for the challenge was developed and coordinated in cooperation with Jochen Barth and Ingmar Moust of the Service Science Factory (Part of the Maastricht School of Business and Economics).

The challenge was exclusively offered to UM, particularly SBE students with focus on business-driven innovation.

“These days, a lot of innovation comes from a design-driven approach,” Scharf says. “In the last years it was maybe even a little bit too design driven. Not in the sense of too much design, but in the sense of not enough business driven. The idea with this project was to collaborate with a school emphasizing a business perspective.”

“A blast to experience”
Moust and Martin Lammers, Director of Business Development and Customer Relations at UM, joined the finalists when they visited Wolfsburg to deliver their final presentations.

“We got to learn about what Volkswagen Group is doing to promote sustainability, and visited the Bugatti pavilion as well as the world famous Volkswagen Towers,” says Moust. “After this the students got to test-drive a sustainable Volkswagen (e-Golf, e-Polo or the Golf GTE). This was an absolute blast to experience.”

The subsequent day the students presented their business plans to a jury consisting of Prof. Dr. Jürgen Leohold, Head of Volkswagen Group Research; Dr. Lars Heidenreich, Head of Volkswagen Group Business Development; Angela Kleinhans, Head of Strategic Trends & Innovation at Volkswagen Financial Services AG; Dr. Marcus Heitmann, Head of Car-Net Product Marketing, Volkswagen; and UM SBE Alumnus Maria Soni-Reissfelder, ‎Manager Strategic Projects at Volkswagen.

The winners announced
After listening to the four pitches, each lasting eight minutes and followed by a critical five minutes Q&A session from the judging panel, the judges had “an intense discussion,” according to Moust.

In the end, the top prize went to the team ‘Eyes in the Cloud.’

The winning team

The winning team

In addition to the winning team, an internship was offered to Bernard Komor and Adrian Sommer of another team in recognition for their outstanding presentation of an innovative parking solution.

After a formal award ceremony, the students got the chance to pitch and discuss their ideas in-depth with experts from Volkswagen Group Business Innovation.

The students particularly enjoyed the experience of the Business Innovation Challenge, as it was a good chance to experience business in practice and to be pushed out of their comfort zones at the hand of great coaches.

As finalists, Alessandro Fiannola and Einar Halfdanarson remarked: “At the start our class mates were skeptical due to the extra workload, but they really saw that we got good coaching and were learning new skills.”

Other finalists Mahmud Yildiz and Ruben Ritzerfeld remarked that, “It was sad to get this far and miss out on the prize, but we really enjoyed this experience and hope that there will be more of these opportunities in the future.” 


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