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Patricia Müller

Focus on cybersecurity: Sustainable investments for a secure future

On Pitch Day #1, seven startups from the CISPA Incubator applied for initial funding from the CISPA Venture Capital Fund. In our interview, Dr. Peter Memminger, Managing Director of Sustainable & Invest GmbH, and Max Wolf, Head of Startups & Entrepreneurship at CISPA, explain what happens next and why it is so important to invest in cybersecurity right now.

Dr. Memminger, how does Sustainable & Invest select the sustainable projects or companies in which you invest? How do you find out whether an investment is worthwhile? 

Dr. Peter Memminger: We invest at different stages in different subject areas. In the area of research spin-offs, this concerns the area of data/IT security as well as artificial intelligence (AI). For us, the following aspects are crucial:

  1. Do we believe that the product or service addresses a social problem for which there is a correspondingly large market potential?
  2. Do we achieve added value for the company and its stakeholders as a whole with our investment and our commitment?
  3. Does the investment pay off for us in the mid-term? As an entrepreneurial investor, we are of course also interested in a positive return on our investment. But equally important for us are aspects such as the protection or creation of local jobs and a special awareness of a resource- and environmentally-friendly way of working.

If the startup then also understands that an investor is not only a provider of funds, but ideally also a sparring partner who enables the startup to focus on its operational challenges in a goal-oriented manner, we have created optimal conditions for a commitment. That's why we much prefer to speak of an commitment rather than an investment – because that's what we really offer.

"Sustainable & Invest is a sustainability-oriented investor who prefers to invest in companies that, in addition to generating a financial return, also aim to solve a social/societal problem"

Dr. Peter Memminger
Managing Director, Sustainable & Invest GmbH

People tend to associate "sustainability" with environmental issues, renewable energies or the protection of nature. How does cybersecurity fit into the portfolio of the Sustainable & Invest GmbH sustainability fund? 

Memminger: Sustainable & Invest is a sustainability-oriented investor who prefers to invest in companies that, in addition to generating a financial return, also aim to solve a social/societal problem or bring about positive change in the region in which they operate. In society, sustainability in the narrow sense is associated with the challenges of our time, such as global warming, environmental disasters, resource scarcity or migration. In most cases, the support of IT systems is called upon to tackle all these problems. Let me give you an example. In the future, the use of AI will make it possible to analyze patient data more quickly, robotics will relieve fatigued doctors of time-consuming interventions, and perform service tasks for which there is a shortage of personnel. With all these revolutionary developments, IT security must take center stage; after all, human lives are at stake. Cyber attacks are ubiquitous today. The threats are particularly great where critical infrastructures are increasingly interconnected with technologies. A sustainable economy can therefore only emerge on the basis of secure and trustworthy IT systems, concerning which there is a great need to catch up in Germany.

Max Wolf, why should investors invest in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence right now?

Max Wolf: Investors should be investing more in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI) right now because these two areas are of crucial importance for the economy and for society as a whole in today's world. In this context, we like to speak of "horizontals", i.e. topics that have enormous relevance across industries. Our growing dependence on information technologies is also causing the threat levels to rise. At the same time, new regulatory requirements and constant competitive pressure are ensuring that companies see strategic value in the use of intelligent and autonomous systems. So there is still much need for innovation here, and also a lot of money to be made – our startups have recognized this. Overall, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence offer attractive investment opportunities because they are the drivers of security and efficiency in an increasingly digital world. Those who invest in these areas not only help protect data, infrastructures and thus our society, but they can also benefit from the opportunities that these technologies and transformation processes offer.

How does Sustainable & Invest support startups in achieving their goals? 

Memminger: We see ourselves more as co-entrepreneurs than as pure investors, and we see our great benefit in helping founders and startups to focus on their core business. We are happy to support them with everything that concerns the founding of their company, help them to acquire suitable personnel, organize their accounting, find investors and establish contact with potential customers and cooperation partners. As their companies grow, we help to put together a suitable advisory board and actively coach the team, especially with regard to the development of a targeted product and marketing strategy. In sum, we try to do everything we can to ensure that the startup can focus on its core competencies and has ideal conditions to develop a product that meets market needs.

"We see ourselves more as co-entrepreneurs than as pure investors, and we see our great benefit in helping founders and startups to focus on their core business"

Dr. Peter Memminger
Managing Director, Sustainable & Invest GmbH

What are the crucial criteria in your view to ensure that a company has a positive long-term impact on society?

Memminger: Very important for us are the interests and goals of the people involved, which must be in line with our investment strategy and also measurable on the basis of predefined milestones. It is equally important to us to consolidate the product's market viability, i.e. we only invest in a business idea if we are convinced that the product can satisfy an existing demand or gap in a market with high potential.

Max Wolf, what makes the startups selected for Pitch Day #1 so special and how have the startups been supported at CISPA over the past few months?

Wolf: The startups selected for Pitch Day #1 are special because they are developing innovative ideas and technologies in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence that have the potential to provide real solutions to pressing societal problems. These startups stand out for their ability to tackle complex challenges while capitalizing on the latest insights and technologies in these highly relevant fields.

Over the past few months, the startups have received intensive support at CISPA. The incubator program at CISPA offers the young companies not only attractive financial support but also access to first-class expertise, resources and networks. Here are some of the ways the startups have been supported:

  • Mentoring and coaching: The startups have access to experienced mentors and coaches who help them with strategic development, product design and market launch.
  • Resources and infrastructure: At CISPA, the startups have access to state-of-the-art equipment, offices, and technical facilities that are critical to their research and development.
  • Networking: CISPA offers numerous networking opportunities, including events, workshops and conferences where startups can meet potential partners, customers and investors.
  • Financial support: in addition to the CISPA Venture Capital Fund, startups have the opportunity to receive grants and funding for their projects.

Overall, startups at CISPA have been provided with holistic support to ensure they can realize their full potential and successfully bring their innovative solutions to market. To successfully tackle this step, they have now applied for investments from the CISPA Venture Capital Fund.

"My vision for the CISPA ecosystem is to create a strong and sustainable community of excellent research, innovative startups and courageous investors"

Max Wolf
Head of Startups & Entrepreneurship @ CISPA

Dr. Memminger, you have now met seven startups from the CISPA incubator. What happens next? 

Memminger: We will discuss our impressions and then seek talks with the particularly promising startups. This is about a long and hopefully successful journey together, where both sides need to feel comfortable with their partner. To that end, the Pitch Day was an important first step, followed by getting to know each other in more detail and due diligence.

An investment from the CISPA Venture Capital Fund is a special and exclusive opportunity for startups of the CISPA Incubator. Max Wolf, what is your vision for the CISPA ecosystem?

Wolf: My vision for the CISPA ecosystem is to create a strong and sustainable community of excellent research, innovative startups and courageous investors. We want to help ensure that the most promising ideas and technologies generated at and around CISPA are successfully brought to market and reach scaleability. We see ourselves as a long-term partner that not only provides financial support, but also actively helps startups achieve their goals. We work hard every day to ensure that the CISPA ecosystem becomes a breeding ground for groundbreaking innovation in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, making a positive contribution to society – in our region and around the world.