At NAIAS: Bosch leads mobility solutions through strong ties with startups

In the world of mobility, the most agile companies aren’t defined by their size. Instead, they engage with entrepreneurs that have nailed the innovation they need, and make a proposal to work collaboratively with, invest in, or acquire the startup.

Bosch is one of these agile companies. An 80 billion euro global supplier of tech-based mobility solutions, Bosch has recognized the value of rubbing elbows with startups, and has some success stories to share as a result.

At AutoMobili-D, the mobility-focused rollout to the North American International Auto Show, Bosch extended a welcome to the 65 exhibiting startups to engage with Bosch representatives at a kickoff day reception in the Bosch hospitality suite. Included was a panel discussion that explored Bosch’s perspective toward working with startups. (See below for our takeaways from this event.)

Connections made in a comfortable space

While Bosch’s reception at AutoMobili-D is an annual event, this year, it’s a chance for Bosch, members of PlanetM, and exhibiting startups, some of which will be sitting down for match meetings with Bosch later in the week, to connect more casually.
“The match meetings are like a speed dating event,” says Kevin Mull, director of connected mobility solutions at Bosch, who says last year’s 20 meetings were 20 minutes each. “You find their exhibit space and they tell you as much as they can and you ask questions. But if we have another opportunity to talk more casually, we take it.” Match meetings involve only two or three Bosch representatives, but more casual events allow more exploration with more people, giving a better overall picture of the businesses on both sides.

“It’s a good one-two punch,” says Mull.

Bosch and PlanetM are partnering for the match meetings, an extension of PlanetM’s bi-monthly activities of connecting businesses, mobility assets, and stakeholders to generate economic growth and development in Michigan’s mobility landscape.

Stories shared from both perspectives

The panel discussion will reflect Bosch’s strategy on engagement with startups along the three key Bosch platforms of connected, electrified, and automated mobility, says Mull. “We are developing a lot of technology ourselves, but there are many others working on really interesting things that support our overall strategy. We are opening to investing in partners that can either complement or support our overall strategy.”

Bosch made a minority investment in Mojio, a European-based connected vehicle data platform. “This manifests our invest strategy, where we don’t need to completely acquire a company to have engagement,” says Mull. SPLT, the corporate rideshare platform, represents Bosch’s acquire strategy. “We saw something we felt we wanted to bring into the organization,” Mull says. “The SPLT team was open to the acquisition that we put together. They are a great example of what it looks like to be a startup, operating on its own, and then find someone interested in acquisition.”"We are the lucky ones who get to sit in the space," says Kevin Mull of Bosch, regarding the PlanetM Landing Zone. Devon O'Reilly of the Landing Zone is to his right.

The panel discussion represents all of these strategies, including the ups and downs of startup engagement. “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but if the logic is sound, and the commitment is well-meaning, it’s possible to get through those deals and the results can be incredible,” says Mull.

Colliding in the PlanetM Landing Zone

Mull’s division of Bosch engages with mobility entrepreneurs on a daily basis. As a corporate partner of the PlanetM Landing Zone, Mull works in the same space as some 29 startups and 10 other partner organizations on a single floor at We Work Merchant’s Row in Detroit. And the benefits of these daily collisions in a dense urban population where mobility is thriving can’t be overstated, says Mull.

“Frankly, it’s been a really incredible experience so far,” he says. “I can’t be complimentary enough of the PlanetM team and the work they are doing and the environment they have developed. We are the lucky ones who get to sit in the space, and the frequency and volume of interaction between these mobility startups is difficult to achieve without being in a space like [the PlanetM Landing Zone].”

Read our takeaways from the panel discussion titled Bosch Connected Mobility: Develop, Invest, and Acquire, featuring Kenny Hawk, CEO of Mojio, Ben Seidman, director of business development at SPLT, and Kevin Mull, director of connected mobility solutions at Bosch, and moderated by Devon O’Reilly, director of entrepreneurship for the Detroit Regional Chamber and PlanetM Landing Zone.

Bosch is big, but outside innovation makes Bosch fast.

“It’s all about speed to market with solutions,” says Mull. “We don’t have all the answers, so when we can introduce some startup blood into our environment, it can be really powerful.”

Mojio knew connected tech, but didn’t know automotive.

“We had good AI, good mobile apps, great tech, but we didn’t know automotive,” says Hawk. Mojio knew Bosch has deep ties with OEMs, and started its relationship with Bosch with lunch at TU Automotive. “Kevin [Mull] came up with five technology tracks where we could work alongside each other to achieve,” he says. Hawk shared the Silicon Valley perspective of continual collaboration between large companies and startups, a model that is more difficult in the automotive environment, simply because the stakes are much higher. “It’s harder for OEMs because they create life-or-death machines,” he says.

For everyone involved, policies do matter.

“Earlier on in our relationship, I kept getting emails from Bosch telling me this and that were against policy,” says Seidman. “I didn’t know what the policies were!” In time, Seidman came to appreciate the amount of time and passion and technical expertise within Bosch. “Bosch is a company full of specialists, and it’s been a very enlightening process,” he says. Mull adds that Bosch has a giant book filled with 780 non-negotiable central directives. Hawk shared that one of the five work tracks established with Bosch was crash detection, and he quickly learned that $1 million in safety testing must take place before a technology can move forward. “There is no cutting corners anywhere,” he says.

In a list of advice for startups, mindfulness rises to the top.

“For a startup, raising money is a transfer of trust. You are picking investors that you will be married to for seven to 10 years. Choose carefully rather than take money from just anywhere. Interview them as much as they interview you. Get to know them on a personal level,” says Hawk. “You are making an agreement with a firm, but also with a person. Get the offer, but find out who is excited about your project and connect with that person. This enthusiasm is worth more than the money.”

“Find people who are willing to go to bat with you, because there will be tough times,” says Seidman.

“Work on your elevator speech,” says Mull. “And include your business model. You can wow with your technology, but that means very little if you can’t show how you will make money with it. Once you get your connections, be persistent in your follow-up. Be thoughtful, persistent, and professional about it.”

Photos by Claire Charlton

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