Number of the Month: 9 million US dollars

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It sounds like the story from a film script: invited to a family celebration, a young man spends the whole evening sitting opposite a friendly but unremarkable older man. Although they have never met before, the two instantly find a rapport. They also have plenty to talk about, as both are interested in technological innovations.

More punctual trains would save companies money

The three founders of Konux (Dennis Humhal, Andreas Kunze and Vlad Lata )

The young man is in his mid-twenties and is called Andreas Kunze. He studied business informatics at the Technical University (TU) of Munich. While still at university, he and some friends had the idea of developing smart sensors, and built the first prototypes at the TU Munich. What was new about their innovation was that the sensors provide real-time information about the status of a machine, system or component. For rail transport companies, for example, this means that sensors report in real time where in Germany which points require maintenance. This could make rail traffic more punctual, saving railway operators a lot of money.

Renowned entrepreneurs and venture capitalists show faith in the start-up

Sooner or later, Andreas Kunze gets around to telling his new friend about his idea – not realising who is sitting opposite him. It is in fact Andreas von Bechtolsheim, a German computer scientist and entrepreneur. A long time ago, Bechtolsheim was one of the first to invest in Google. Soon the businessman is excited about Kunze’s idea – and a little while later invests in the start-up. Other investors soon follow the German billionaire’s lead, showing their faith in the young company that Kunze and co-founders Dennis Humhal and Vlad Lata have christened Konux. Entrepreneurs and venture capital companies like the experienced German investors MIG Fonds, UnternehmerTUM and New Enterprise Associates – a fund based in Silicon Valley – invest the combined sum of more than nine million US dollars. They all believe that Konux could one day revolutionise the entire transport industry.

And indeed Andreas Kunze and his colleagues have been able to convince some major players, including German rail operator Deutsche Bahn (DB), which is using the start-up’s systems to lower its maintenance costs, increase its quality and thus take another step towards digitisation. “Konux is one partner on our journey towards Infrastructure 4.0”, explains Klaus Müller, Chief Technology Officer for DB infrastructure.

Key support from the university in Munich

Perhaps it was the chance meeting with the investor Andreas von Bechtolsheim that paved the way for the start-up’s future. Yet the success of Kunze and his team is not only thanks to chance: from the outset, the three young men were given extensive support in establishing their new company. Kunze and Lata for example took part in a training programme run by the Center for Digital Technology & Management (CDTM) in Munich and brought with them experience of working in German companies such as BMW, Siemens and Audi. Another key factor was doubtless the support they received from UnternehmerTUM. Together, an affiliated institute of the TU Munich and the university run a unique entrepreneurship centre. It offers technology-oriented founders and start-ups a complete service – from the initial idea to the growth phase. High-tech workshop MakerSpace for example makes equipment available for building prototypes and small batch production. Among other things, Kunze and Lata attended the “Manage & More” training programme, which gives participants project experience and teaches them key skills.

Attractive employer for skilled workers

Nowadays more than 30 people work at Konux, which is still based in Munich. Many people believe in the success of the young company. Skilled workers also find the start-up attractive: since mid-May 2016, Kunze and his colleagues have received around 1,500 applications.