Audi at the Bits & Pretzels 2019: how visions create Vorsprung

How do tradition and technology fit together? Perfectly, as Europe’s largest founders festival, Bits & Pretzels, demonstrates each year. And what about the power of innovation with 110 years of experience? That’s also a perfect match, as Audi demonstrated at “Bits” 2019.

09/30/2019 Reading Time: 3 min

Hildegard Wortman at the Bits & Pretzels' stage

Bits & Pretzels 2019 — tradition meets innovation

AI experts in dirndls, software developers in lederhosen — that’s Bits & Pretzels (or Bits for short). This is where tradition meets innovation. What started off six years ago as breakfast for 80 people is now Europe’s largest founders festival, with over 5000 entrepreneurs, investors, and digital enthusiasts in attendance. The list includes Hildegard Wortmann, Member of the Board of Management for Sales and Marketing at Audi, as well as the Audi Denkwerkstatt with their program on the Mobility stage.

Better understand what moves customers

A clear vision. Every company needs one — from startups to major enterprises. But, unlike new founders, a company like Audi doesn’t start with a blank slate.  With 110 years of experience in the construction of automobiles, the company is faced with nothing less than the task of reinventing themselves. “Our vision is: unleash the beauty of sustainable mobility,” says Hildegard Wortmann in her keynote speech on the center stage at Bits & Pretzels. To make this vision a reality, they need to consistently focus on their customers.  

Take autonomous driving, for example. Audi wants to better understand their customers’ motivations — and so they surveyed 21,000 people in nine countries on three different continents as part of the &Audi initiative. The result is a user typology that shows that “what people think and feel about autonomous driving depends significantly on their lifestyle,” explains Wortmann. “The young, well-paid, well-educated, status-oriented trendsetters and tech-loving passengers, for example, are most interested in autonomous driving.”

Matthias Brendel

An intrapreneurship programme with co-working and co-living: Matthias Brendel heads the Audi Denkwerkstatt in Berlin.

The ideal working environment? Wherever ideas proliferate!

One success factor on the path from vision to reality: creative thinkers within the company who can reimagine mobility. Like engineer Franz Hofmann, who built an electric jet-powered hydrofoil surfboard using the Audi e-foil that practically flies over the water. After Bits & Pretzels, he took off with investor and passionate snowboarder Frank Thelen (from the German business reality show Höhle der Löwen) for a test drive on the nearby Echinger lake.

People like Hofmann need a working environment where ideas can grow. Like in the Audi Denkwerkstatt. “To make visions a reality, founders and corporations need a strong, diverse, interdisciplinary team that can use the core competencies of its members in a way that make sense,” says Matthias Brendel, founder and head of the Audi Denkwerkstatt, on the Mobility Stage at Bits & Pretzels. In the “intrapreneurship” program, employees from various areas of specialization come together in Berlin to work on prototypes and new business models. The results are innovations that are subsequently developed within the company until they are ready for series production. Like the Park-E — a mobile charging station for electric cars. It is designed for urban customers, for example, who don’t have their own garage. They can charge the Park-E on their household power outlet, then drive it to their electric car to charge the vehicle.

hydrofoil surfboard
Almost a flight over the water: The Audi e-foil, a hydrofoil surfboard with electric jet propulsion, at the Bits & Pretzels.

Cooperating with startups for implementation

When implementing these types of innovations, cooperating with startups is the key to success — whether this takes the form of partnerships, investments, or spin-off companies. That’s what happened with holoride technology, who is making a whole new dimension of in-car entertainment possible. The technology combines virtual reality with the car’s movements in real time. If the car drives to the right, for example, the virtual spaceship also goes to the right.

Digital strategist Nils Wollny further developed the technology with software developers from Audi Electronics Venture: “When we were still working at Audi, we picked up the Audi board of directors at the airport and pitched our project with a prototype,” Wollny reminisces on the Mobility Stage at Bits. Since this type of innovation is most beneficial for customers when it is structured as an open platform for all vehicle manufacturers and content producers, Audi deliberately pushed forward the founding of the spin-off company holoride. Wollny is now CEO of the independent startup, and Audi holds a minority interest in holoride via its subsidiary Audi Electronics Venture.

Matthias Brendel in an interview with Nils Wollny and Bettina Bernhard
„Structure follows culture“, said Bettina Bernhardt (Head of Audi Business Innovation) in a conversation with Nils Wollny (CEO holoride) and Matthias Brendel (Head of Audi Denkwerkstatt, right) about working environments enable mobility innovation.

Out of the comfort zone: radical, but focused

Surfer Franz Hofmann, startup expert Matthias Brendel, and VR pioneer Nils Wollny: the thing that unites innovators is their attitude. “They think radically, but stay focused,” says Hildegard Wortmann. And they aren’t afraid to leave their comfort zones: “After all, big ideas and comfort rarely go together.”

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