Interview with Thomas Jarzombek

Template titled " An Interview with Thomas Jarzombek, Economic Affairs Ministry's Commissioner for the Digital Industry and Start-ups".

© Tobias Koch 2020

Read this article in German.


Innovative mobility ideas often come from very agile and fast start-ups. A major challenge for them is communication with officially organized communities. How can this exchange be improved in the future?

Cooperation between start-ups and large organizations, especially public authorities, is a topic that we are very concerned about. With our “go-inno” initiative, we are in the process of taking various measures to give start-up entrepreneurs better access to public tenders. For example, we are pushing more strongly for technology-neutral tenders. This is often a decisive prerequisite, especially when we are talking about tech start-ups. For example, do I put out tenders for helicopter services to find people in distress at sea, or do I put such services out to tender in a technology-neutral way so that drones can also be used for this purpose?

With a government share of 44%, a great deal of the contract volume is awarded by the public sector and thus has a great influence on developments. We want start-up founders to participate more effectively in this as business projects are the best support program for start-ups.

We see a similar problem with very innovative and new technologies that are not yet explicitly regulated by law. Here, policymakers are often faced with the challenge of maintaining openness to technology while at the same time providing regulatory guidelines.

Our answer to this is the real lab strategy from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi). We create test rooms for innovations and regulations. But of course, this is not a permanent solution. In the future, we will have to get away from the experimental clauses - the law on the promotion of persons is currently a good example - and create permanent solutions. In my view, there is still a need for action.

So far, a lot has been tested on the basis of experimental clauses. But that does not represent a perspective for investors. I believe that investors will only invest in a start-up if it is clear that a market can be developed.

Are there then any clearly defined paths to permanent regulation missing in experimental clauses?

In the end, a decision-making body is needed which, after a test phase, will or will not allow continuous operation. A committee that opens things up very quickly. But it must not stop at experimental clauses either. Instead, we need a real market opening. That is urgently needed. Only in this way can a start-up get the financing it needs to succeed in international competition.

I think that instead of numerous experimental clauses, we need to enter much earlier and open up the markets and deregulate them massively, especially in the area of mobility, which is currently still too much of an obstacle to innovation.

At the Düsseldorf Airport, your home town, they just announced a collaboration with an air cab manufacturer. How do you see the future of air cabs in Germany and what must be done here with the support of politics so that such innovations can be brought to market in the long term?

I would like to see the Federal Ministry of Transport commissioning the first routes and thus clearly placing orders in the shop window, thereby sending a signal to companies and investors: “There is a market there and it works in Germany too. I also think it would be interesting to set up a test track in an inner-city area, where different traffic concepts can also be driven and where you can test how customers actually accept such things.

One final question: Is there an ideal mobility concept for you that you would like to see, or should the better person simply win?

Well, I am an absolute fan of competition and diversity. I don’t think there is such a thing as the “one size fits all” solution. It won’t be one concept that replaces everything in the future, but the key is indeed competition. Only through competition will innovations emerge in the end. Through competition and through openness. The ideas that compete strongly will ultimately be successful beyond Germany. The question is, how can technologies develop quickly so that they give rise to companies that can be globally successful and change the world? That must be our goal, and that can only be achieved through competition, through an open platform whereas many founders as possible can challenge existing concepts with new ideas.

The stronger the competition is, the more agile the players become, and the better their chances are to be successful in the international market.

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